When the old Yankee Conference Hockey League in Massachusetts fell apart after the 2002-03 season, Kathy and Ronnie Cincotta bought it.
“We sat on it for a year because Ronnie didn’t know what to do with it,” Kathy said. Before the league ended, its teams were in the lowest divisions. However, the league came with four sheets of ice at the Nashoba Valley Olympia.
So the Cincottas reached out to Ray Shea and Steve Palmatti. They were running Massachusetts District 9 girls’ hockey in which any girl could play. But, according to Kathy Cincotta, even though it did provide a place for girls to play, it was more along the lines of “pickup hockey.”
“Ronnie talked to Ray and Steve and this girls’ league was hatched for the 2004-05 season,” Kathy Cincotta said. “All of the coaches decided to try this new league and came over to what is now the Middlesex Yankee Conference Girls Hockey League.”
Kathy Cincotta is now the director of the new MYCGHL. And no longer do MYCGHL teams only play in the lowest divisions.
In that initial season the league consisted of 15 teams from six towns. Now fast forward to the 2012-13 season. A total of 149 teams from more than 40 cities and towns that span the alphabet from Acton-Boxboro to Woburn encompassing more than 1,400 girls from Under-10 to Under-14 fall under the MYCGHL umbrella. And these figures don’t include the pre-season high school division that was added five years ago.
“We started with about 10 U-18 teams and since its preseason ends before Thanksgiving girls can play for their high school teams,” Cincotta said. “Eventually, it just took off.
“This season we have six U-18 divisions ranging from upper varsity going down to junior varsity Double A.”
Not surprisingly, the MYCGHL is the largest league of its kind in New England. Organization is a major reason why the league has expanded at such a rapid rate.
“It’s very organized,” Cincotta said. “They get their schedules enough in advance so they can plan. Boys will play on a frozen parking lot. Girls need all the stars aligned and everything perfectly placed, and they’ll say we’ll play.
“They like the experience and the competition is good. They’re very aware of teams that can’t compete at a certain level and, certainly, I don’t want blowouts so the girls have a good experience.”
Currently on the proverbial drawing board is a plan to add a half/full season U-16 division depending on the number of teams interested in joining.
“My aim is to grow the program in southern New Hampshire and southern Maine where they don’t have high school teams,” Cincotta said. “Also, in Massachusetts there are some towns that don’t have girls’ hockey at the high school level.
“It would provide an opportunity. I’m looking to incorporate the junior varsity high school teams because their scheduling isn’t very organized. It’s a matter of getting the word out.”
Cincotta, who admittedly “loves this league,” realizes each association has its own goals and philosophies. But while she feels some associations focus on developing girls to play college hockey, she has a goal of her own that would mirror the top level of boys’ hockey in Massachusetts.
“First and foremost, we want to give girls coming into the league and who are playing hockey for the first time the opportunity to develop a love for the game and to have fun,” she said. “It’s more of a social thing for girls than boys.
“But as these feeder programs grow, they morph into good high school teams. I would love to see a Super 8 [Tournament] for girls’ teams. There are some very good high school teams out there and their roots came from playing girls’ youth hockey.”
Cincotta related one anecdote that underscores the popularity of the league.
“About six years ago, the director of Wellesley girls’ hockey called me,” she said. “He had a team of 9- and 10-year old girls. We talked for two weeks and I was trying to talk him into putting his girls in our league.
“They only won two games that season. But they stayed together and last season they won the Massachusetts U-19 state championship. It was such a nice feeling that this team went all the way to the state championship. If they had not joined our league, they might have disbanded.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials.
USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?
Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.
USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season?
Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that.
The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.
USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?
Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.
USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official?
Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.
USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career?
Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.
USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?
Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.
USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?
Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.
USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career?
Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.
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