COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Josh Pauls (Green Brook, N.J.) of the 2015 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team is one of five nominees for the 2015 ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability, ESPN announced today. The winner will be determined by fan voting and presented at The ESPYs July 15 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California. Fan voting is open now at ESPN.com/ESPYS and runs to July 15.
The ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) is an annual award show that honors sports and athletic achievement, both on an individual and team basis.
On May 3, Pauls helped the U.S. claim its third gold medal in the last four world championships by scoring the final goal in Team USA's 3-0 shutout victory over Canada in the gold-medal game. Pauls, who finished the tournament second among defensemen with seven points (4-3) in five games, was named Best Defensemen of the Tournament as awarded by the Directorate.
In his seventh year with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, Pauls finished the 2014-15 season with 13 points (8-5) in 13 games, including the overtime goal in the championship game of the 2015 World Sled Hockey Challenge on February 7, 2015, in Leduc, Alberta. His eight goals ranked third overall on Team USA and first among defensemen.
Pauls also tallied 22 goals and 25 points to help the Disabled Athletes Sports Association St. Louis Blues Sled Hockey Team claim the 2015 Midwest Sled Hockey League Championship and reach the semifinals of the 2015 Toyota-USA Hockey Sled Hockey National Championship in Buffalo, New York.
Pauls becomes the third U.S. sled hockey player to be nominated for the Best Male Athlete with a Disability ESPY. Goaltender Steve Cash (Overland, Mo.) won the award in 2010 and forward Declan Farmer (Tampa, Fla.) received the honor in 2014. Josh Sweeney (Phoenix, Ariz.), captain of the 2015 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, was also honored during the 2014 ESPYS when he received the inaugural Pat Tillman Award for Service for his dedication to his country and helping others.
Many sports across the board have begun to see a decline in their number of officials. USA Hockey is no different, with numbers lagging slightly behind player growth.
With that in mind, USA Hockey has made a particularly concerted effort over the last couple of years to incentivize officials to stick around.
Not surprisingly that was the main topic discussed at the annual USA Hockey's Winter Meetings, according to National Referee-in-Chief Dave LaBuda.
“I'd say the overriding tone of the meeting was us talking about retention and trying to come up with ways in which to address that particular issue,” LaBuda said. “It's a very complex situation. There are a number of different factors that go into why an official decides not to stay registered. We can only address a certain number of those factors and the rest we have to hope fix themselves in some way.”
In an effort to be proactive, USA Hockey has implemented sweeping change in the registration process for existing officials.
It started by revamping the registration fees, and while some of the other minutiae is rather hard to digest, the most notable change is the reduction of registration requirements for officials that reach the Level 3 or Level 4 status.
As soon as an official has obtained Level 3 or Level 4 status for three consecutive years, they will become eligible to apply for tenured status. In order to attain that tenured status, officials must also attend what USA Hockey is calling an advanced officiating symposium.
“It's designed to encourage people to continue their level of registration and to advance to a higher level of registration,” LaBuda said. “Just getting them to climb that ladder and try to attain the highest level of registration will make them better officials, and in turn, improve the game.”
Essentially, USA Hockey wants to send a message to its officials, making it clear that their time is important to the organization.
“We understand that people's time nowadays is becoming tighter and tighter,” LaBuda said. “We wanted to make sure that we made the entire process as efficient as possible from a time standpoint.”
It seems to be working so far as USA Hockey has been able to stabilize its registration numbers over the last few years, according to LaBuda.
“We are starting to see some movement in that retention area,” LaBuda said. “It seems like every sport is experiencing a critical loss of officials to work their sport. We are hoping that these changes in the registration process will help us retain more officials down the road. It’s been a positive step in the right direction so far.”