Avalanche stepping up with officiating mentoring program
Attracting, training and retaining officials for youth hockey games is a problem throughout the country.
How bad of a problem? An estimated 40 percent of youth hockey officials quit each year, most after only a season or two.
Colorado isn’t immune to the dropout rate.
But Ron Groothedde thinks a large step in the right direction has been taken in the state, partly because of the generosity of the Colorado Avalanche organization.
Groothedde is the referee-in-chief for USA Hockey in Colorado. Each year, 28 pre-season re-certification clinics for youth hockey officials are held across the state including eight in the Metro Denver area.
It costs between $7,000-$9,000 annually to hold the Denver-area clinics. Ice time and meeting rooms are needed, and it costs big bucks to rent them. Funding for the clinics statewide comes from an annual $15 affiliation fee paid by officials.
The money for the Denver-area clinics is no longer needed.
The Avalanche — through Jason Schofield, the organization’s amateur hockey director who serves on the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) board with Groothedde — is providing ice time and meeting space for clinics at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver for no charge. The arrangement began this year.
“We’re happy to do this as part of our organization’s commitment to growing youth hockey in the state,” Schofield said.
“The decision was a no-brainer,” he said. “We want to support youth hockey any way we can, we know there’s limited ice time availability in the Denver area, and with recent upgrades at the Pepsi Center, our meeting rooms have state-of-the-art technology.”
The other side of the equation on the Avalanche’s in-kind donation of ice time and meeting rooms also is important.
Groothedde said the $7,000-$9,000 saved each year will be used for USA Hockey’s mentoring program for beginning officials in the state.
In the program, a veteran official shadows a young official during games.
“The mentor is right there next to the new official, in a track suit and a helmet, making sure the new guy or girl in the correct position to make a call, watching the right things, and dealing property with disputed calls,” Groothedde said.
“It’s not easy to be a hockey official. You have to be a great skater, know the rules and know how to apply them. That’s why the mentoring program is so important. It teaches officials how to see the game better and not get frustrated by what the job entails.”
Groothedde said the money saved on the Denver-area clinics will radically increase and improve the mentoring that can be done for new officials.
“Hopefully, through the mentoring program, we’ll be able to better attract and keep officials, and improve training,” he said. “What the Avs have done will make a huge difference in the future of officiating in our state. We’ll have better trained and more experienced officials.”
About 800 officials are needed annually to work youth hockey games in Colorado. The re-certification clinics begin in August and end in late October.
Groothedde, who lives in Golden, officiates games across the hockey spectrum from 10-year-olds through juniors and NCAA club teams. He’s been an official for 20 years.
Two of the newest NHL referees and linesmen are from Colorado, Groothedee proudly pointed out.
Tom Chmielewski from Colorado Springs has been a referee since 2014. Linesman John Grandt from Denver has been working NHL games since 2013.
— Steve Stein