COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – USA Hockey today announced Scott Balboni (State College, Pa.) and Kristen Wright (Broomfield, Colo.) as head coaches for the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National University Teams. The squads will compete in the 2015 Winter World University Games Feb. 4-14, 2015, in Granada, Spain.
“We’re excited to have Scott and Kristen leading our teams,” said Ashley Bevan, USA Hockey’s senior director of adult hockey. “Both of them bring invaluable coaching experience to this role, and, coupled with some outstanding assistant coaches, we’re very pleased with the staffs that will guide our teams at the Winter World University Games.”
Balboni, who also served as head coach of the 2013 U.S. Men’s National University Team and led that squad to its best-ever finish in the Winter World University Games, previously worked in the same role for the Penn State University men’s ice hockey club team from 2006-11. He was named the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Men’s Division I National Coach of the Year in 2007 after guiding Penn State to the national title game and a .781 winning percentage. Balboni was an assistant coach for the U.S. Men’s National University Team at both the 2009 Winter World University Games in Harbin, China, and the 2011 Games in Erzurum, Turkey.
Dan Phelps (Livonia, Mich.) and Sean Hogan (Athens, Ohio) will serve as assistant coaches under Balboni. Phelps, who spent the last six seasons (2007-13) as head coach of the Adrian College Men’s Ice Hockey Team, will be behind the bench for his third straight Winter World University Games. Hogan is making his second Winter World University Games coaching appearance after working alongside Balboni and Phelps at the 2013 Games. He was recently named head coach of the Ohio University Men’s Ice Hockey Team.
Wright will serve as head coach of the 2015 U.S. Women’s National University Team, after helping the 2013 U.S. Women’s National University Team to the bronze medal as an assistant coach. The 2014-15 campaign will mark Wright’s sixth season as head coach of the University of Colorado Women’s Ice Hockey Team. The St. Paul, Minnesota native was named coach of the year by the University of Colorado Collegiate Sport Clubs in 2014.
Scott Hicks (Oxford, Ohio) and Shelley Looney (Buffalo, N.Y.) will join Wright behind the bench at the 2015 Winter World University Games. Hicks, who currently serves as head coach of the Miami University Women’s Ice Hockey Team, was named 2014 ACHA Division I Coach of the Year after leading the squad to the ACHA National Championship. Looney, a two-time member of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team (1998, gold; 2002, silver), is currently the director of hockey for the Buffalo Bison program. A native of Brownstown, Michigan, Looney has coached multiple girls’ hockey teams and is actively involved in USA Hockey. Both Hicks and Looney are making their Team USA coaching debuts.
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”