Marlon, New Jersey resident Scott Tarzy is putting the finishing touches on his preparation for the 2016 ISBHF Junior World Ball Hockey Championships in Sheffield, UK, which take place July 6-12. This is Scott’s second World Championship as the Juniors Division GM. In 2014, he put together the Junior Division program from scratch that led to both the U18 and U20 teams taking home Bronze medals, with each defeating Canada in their respective victories in Bratislava, Slovakia.
The road of course hasn’t been without bumps, but Scott’s drive and passion for the sport certainly made for more smooth roads than not. As Scott talks about below, the 2014 experience overall was invaluable for him as he now takes three teams over to Sheffield with the addition of the first ever U16 Team USA. Scott was kind enough to take some time out of his preparations to talk to us about the upcoming tournament and also to reflect on the Bratislava experience.
JUNIOR DIVISION GM SCOTT TARZY
Scott, thanks for taking time out to do this. Can you first give us your assessment of the 2014 Tournament in terms of how the U18 and U20 teams performed?
Reflecting back on my first experience as GM with the Jr World ball hockey tournament in 2014 I am surprised at how well the USA performed. The talent from all of the countries is phenomenal. The game is much faster than we expected and the rinks are huge compared to what the Jr Teams typically play on in the States. The fact that both the U20 and U18 teams both battled to win Bronze medals in 2014 is a testament to the players sheer athleticism.
In 2014 we had roughly 10 hours of prep time together as teams, prior to the tournament. We took two teams, very inexperienced, 4200 miles and dumped them in a situation where honestly we set them up to fail. But they did not. They responded by playing very good hockey. The U20 team came out of the gate with dominant performances and were on a very strong run early in the tournament and the U18 team was shell shocked early but battled all week to stay alive for a medal game. In the end both teams won Bronze medals which is not the GOLD they both yearned to have but respectful performances in an arena full of talent.
After Slovakia in 2014 we returned to the States and took a month to refocus and drew up a pretty detailed game plan for 2016. We have been at work for 20 months preparing for these games.
Overall, how did the experience in Bratislava differ from what you maybe had envisioned in your head?
The biggest difference to me was the speed of the game and the size of the rink. Folks who had been there kept telling me over and over but honestly until you get there and see it, you do not understand it.
What are some of the best memories you have from that experience?
Those that were on the trip I am sure will ECHO my thoughts – I have lots of great memories from the event itself, obviously two of the best are watching the players from both teams celebrate after winning Bronze.
What are you most proud of about the 2014 teams and that overall experience?
This is a very easy answer… After each game, the winning teams National Anthem is played. Due to some technical difficulties after the U20 team won, the USA Anthem was not played, the hosts did their best to quickly correct it but on the second start up the wrong Anthem was played again. Then the team took matters into their own hands. Together standing facing the USA Flag, the entire U20 team stood on the blue line, shoulder to shoulder and decided to sing the USA National Anthem. I often hear how troubled our youth is and how they are up to no good and they do not respect the Flag or the Country. It was amazing to see the young men, with their arms around each other SINGING for themselves, their team, their country. It may sound odd to some but as a GM it was better than watching the team win the actual game itself. I could not have been prouder of the team if they have won GOLD.
Were there any players you wanted to single out for various reasons?
The U20 team was full of talent and I was very happy to see some of the players jump immediately to the next level and play on the mens team in Zug. Ruiz, Wilson and Caron have gone from Jr to Mens hockey and didn’t miss a beat. These guys continue to play in tournaments and astound fans with their abilities. During the 2014 Championships these guys were dominant on the rink and were very close to bringing home the Gold
Eddie McDonough and Denis Hickey, Captain and Assistant Captain of the first ever U18 teams were amazing all tournament. Sometimes stats are misleading as Eddie’s stats did not show up on the scores sheets but this young man led by example on and off the rink. Denis as assistant captain and came into his own during the tournament. Both players are extremely talented young men, Eddie has since moved on to serve in the US Armed Forces and Denis is returning as the U20 Captain with a desire to win GOLD.
Moving on to 2016, you’re now in charge of three teams, including the first ever Team USA U16. How valuable were the 2014 preparations in terms of helping you with the 2016 preparations?
2014 was a great dress rehearsal. I’m not minimizing what those team did but it was done on short notice with virtually no experience. For 2016, we were able to look back and see all the stuff we did wrong, the things we did not have time to do, modify the entire selection process and actually schedule time between the teams being selected and the event in July to actually practice and work as a team.
Where do you think the Juniors program has some opportunities for improvement?
Already we have plans in motion for 2018, improvements will be made in various areas, such as team tryouts, selection and preparation. If you get to a point where you think that you can not improve it is time to step aside in anything you do. We know we have our work cut out for us but we are up to the challenge.
In what aspects do you think the Juniors program really excels?
The hockey itself – plan to watch the games in July, you will see what we already know, that these players are talented, really talented. We are just the venue they use to display their talents. It is our job to give them a chance to shine and then sit back and watch it unfold.
What are some of the challenges you are facing currently with being GM of the Juniors Division that you thought maybe wouldn’t be a challenge or perhaps as big of a challenge by now?
The biggest challenge in this “The Communication Age” is actually communication. Our coaches, staff, parents and players are all different generations. They use different mediums to communicate and that is a huge challenge. We have an ASHI website, facebook, emails, text, TeamApp and of course a phone. Getting everyone on the same page so to speak and confirming they received information, getting responses… that is a full time job.
How were your staff and coaches selected for the 2016 Championships?
I am very lucky to have convinced Joe Cataldo to join me as the Assistant GM of ASHI Jr Program. Joe is one of the most organized level headed and youth hockey knowledgeable guys I have had the pleasure to work with. Joe makes my job infinitely easier. Our plan for selecting coaches and teams were very similar. Our first step was to ask for folks to volunteer and we had a lot of interest in helping coach at all the levels. We used on online google doc form to accept coaching requests and went through them each one by one. The final decision of coaching rest on my shoulders, that is why Chris Banks sends me a huge check each month. Actually as volunteers Joe and I take our roles very serious and we spent hours discussing the potential coaches before coming to a decision. Different criteria were used to select the coaches at the different age groups because in my mind there are distinct differences in how the teams need to be coached. I have already been approached by coaches looking to be involved in 2018 and the vetting process will be similar, we will open up Coaching Requests for 2018 in August of 2016, with the plan to select our coaches in early September for the next World Jr Championships.
What are some of the positives you feel the U20 staff bring to the program?
The U20 coaching staff is comprised of Mark Quillen, Dan Hickey and Bill Sullivan. Mark has been coaching youth hockey for longer than all of the players on his squad have been alive. He started in Philadelphia coaching and played quite a bit in his younger years. He is a tough coach, he will be hard on the players, he will not put up with dumb penalties or disrespectful players. Dan Hickey stepped in as Head Coach of the U18 team in Slovakia at the last moment and led the team to a Bronze Medal. He will be working the defensive side of the bench this time around. Bill Sullivan brings to this bench the players experience factor. As soon as he was added to the coaching staff he made an impact, the intangible effect of having a coach who has been there before game situations is huge.
What are some of the positives you feel the U18 staff bring to the program?
Bobby Jones, Tim Myers and Dan Gregory lead the charge for the U18 team. Jones runs multiple teams including youth and mens (Jersey Fresh) Ball Hockey is his life. He is a game day coach and will be able to make adjustments in Sheffield. Tim is an amazing player and coach. Tim has coached some of the best youth players and teams in New Jersey over the past few years. Dan Gregory brings experience to the U18 bench as Dan was on the bench with Hickey in Slovakia. He has a very high level hockey IQ and will be able to help the young U18 team out in game situations.
What are some of the positives you feel the U16 staff bring to the program?
Mike Albright, Mike Malloy and Joe Washart will be on the bench for the U16 team. Mike is out of Pittsburgh PA while Joe and Mike Malloy are out of NJ. A very good mix of coaching and an amazingly talented young group of players, the U16 team is the future of the JR program. While inexperienced at the international level all three of these coaches have years if not decades of coaching at the youth tournament level. Mike Malloy helped out the U18 team in Slovakia and was instrumental on the bench joining as a coach at the last moment. Watch out for this team, they will make history in Sheffield as the first ever USA U16 team.
With the U16 team being the first ever from the USA, do you feel that they have an additional pressure on them to perform well?
Making history seems to be what ASHI Team USA Jr Hockey is about to do again. In 2014 we had a U18 team for the first time. Now we have a U16 team. I don’t think that they have more pressure because they are the first team, the pressure comes from the stage they will be on. However, these young men are up to the challenge. Mike Albright will have this group ready to go.
Have you had a chance to look at the films from 2014? If so, what are some of the areas you think the USA teams will need to continue to excel at for success?
Over the past two years I have watched many of the games from Slovakia, some multiple times. In looking for what went wrong in games and what we did well. Our shot to goal ratio is good, so obvious shoot more. But it isn’t just that easy as anyone who has played the game knows. The 2014 team did a better than average job when they were at full strength, we need to keep that up and keep the pressure on our opponents.
Any areas for improvement?
This is easy, we need to stay out of the penalty box. Our opponents are very talented and we can not give them any advantages. Our biggest obstacle in 2014 was ourselves, self destruction by taking too many and untimely penalties.
Do you feel as though based on the USA’s performance in 2014 that they are a favorite in the tournament?
Absolutely not. Until we win Gold we will not be a favorite, we are the underdog for sure. We have a lot to prove and a long way to go as a program. Are we ready yes, but a favorite NO.
Certainly dealing with parents as a hockey coach can be challenging. In 2014, the parents were extremely supportive of the program and the staff. How important is it for staff and coaches to have support of the parents? What does that mean to you as the GM when you see such positivity from the community?
In 2014, we had a pretty good size group of parents and considering the time constraints tremendous support. For Sheffield UK we have almost 100 fans making the journey with us. That is 100 folks not including the players and staff. The support of the parents and community is the only way this program is successful, no matter what Joe or I ask of these parents they come through. It is an amazing feeling to know that they are behind the program. One of my biggest concerns when I took the GM position was if rival youth clubs could come together and work together for one goal. The answer is YES and I thank all of the parents for this.
What has been the overall feeling you’ve gotten from the players as they have been to several tournaments now to prepare. Excitement? Anxious?
Excited and anxious, two very good words to describe our players and staff. We have been preparing for this event for 22 months. Only time will tell, but we believe we are ready.