When we have an opportunity to help out a country like Ireland, it’s something that we certainly want to do
It’s hard to imagine a country without any permanent ice rinks competing on the international hockey scene, but somehow Ireland manages to attract players, coaches and fans.
Admiring the Irish passion for hockey despite huge disadvantages, USA Hockey sent over representatives for a weekend coaching clinic Jan. 26-28. The event advocated the benefits of the American Development Model (ADM) and how to maximize off-ice training to advance Irish hockey, among other important lessons.
Scott Paluch, USA Hockey’s ADM regional manager for the Mid-American District, and Bill Switaj, the Mid-American District’s coach-in-chief, visited Dublin and provided instruction to a group of 30 Irish coaches.
“We put them through a Level 1 and 2 certification clinic,” Paluch said. “A big piece of where we were going with it is the athleticism off-ice. When you are limited to what you’re able to get on the ice, we wanted to make sure they’re able to understand that, from an athleticism standpoint, there’s ways to work on the game off the ice. When you do have the ability to get on the ice, we wanted to make sure to tell them, ‘Get as many kids on the ice as possible, as much as you can, with the limited ice you have.’ So we wanted to make sure they understood the value of station-based practices and what can be done in that.”
Despite the ice limitations, Paluch and Switaj were able to get their messages across. They had classroom time on Friday and Saturday, including off-ice training on body checking and basic athleticism utilizing local youth athletes, a presentation on how to use their Mobile Coach App, and a lot of discussion about the ADM.
Then on Sunday, the group traveled an hour and 45 minutes from Dublin to the nearest rink in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to provide some on-ice instruction to supplement the off-ice lessons.
“We went on the ice for two hours with coaches by themselves and then we had 15 young players come out as well,” Paluch said. “We put them through a station-based practice and small-area games and had a blast.”
The lack of ice is obviously the biggest challenge faced by the aspiring hockey players and coaches in Ireland, which is still a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
“Really interesting that there is no ice in Dublin,” Paluch said. “The ice that they use is up in Belfast. They have a pro rink and a community rink up there, and they do get the opportunity throughout the year, they get these pop-up rinks in Ireland, which is basically for the season, [where they] put something up for Christmas and have people come and skate and they use that for hockey as well. They used to have a rink in Dundalk [about an hour north of Dublin], but right now that is currently not functional, so you can see they have their challenges.
“They have three or four clubs throughout the country, all different ages, and they are passionate and they want to try to get ice, obviously, but they do compete through the IIHF. Roller hockey is a big part of their introduction to hockey. They do have inline hockey, and that is a big piece of how they increase their skills and also keep their passion for ice hockey. It was really good. You can see the passion that they have, with extremely limited resources.”
Everything went very smoothly, and Paluch reported that both he and Switaj thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
“Bill actually runs the rink at Kent State University and he’s been a [coach-in-chief] for a long time and obviously myself being the ADM manager for Mid-Am, Bill and I work together,” Paluch said. “We felt like we were doing another clinic in Dayton, Ohio, but we just happened to be doing it over in Dublin, Ireland. We were treated extremely well, it was a great experience for Bill and I.”
The event was just the latest interaction in a long relationship between USA Hockey and the Irish Ice Hockey Association, one of many international connections that USA Hockey has throughout the world, in fact.
“One of the neat things with USA Hockey and obviously, our stature within the IIHF, a lot of our people are traveling internationally and are constantly sharing ideas with other countries,” Paluch said. “Sometimes you get some countries that aren’t as fortunate to have some of the resources that we have. In this case, this goes back a couple of years of people in charge of the Irish Federation talking to USA Hockey’s Jimmy Johannson and Ron DeGregorio and Art Berglund, and eventually contacting [USA Hockey Director of Coaching Education] Mark Tabrum to the possibility of having people come out for this.”
Paluch hopes the connection with the Irish continues.
“I think it’s something that we would love to continue,” said Paluch, who played at Bowling Green University from 1984-88 and then later coached the Falcons from 2002-09 before joining USA Hockey. “We’re very fortunate, we’ve had cooperation with a lot of different federations. We’ve been involved with Romania, South Africa, and on a more even field, our development staff has spent a lot of time with Finland and their development managers. We’ve gone over there; we’ve brought them here. We’re trying to learn as much as we can in development and I think we all believe it’s our responsibility to help grow the game globally as much as we can, and when we have an opportunity to help out a country like Ireland, it’s something that we certainly want to do.”