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Middlesex Yankee Conference is a leader in New England girls’ hockey

03/05/2013, 2:15pm MST
By Mike Scandura

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.

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USA Hockey: What was it like to be a part of the U22 and U18 Select Series’

Melissa Szkola: The experience was wonderful. It was fantastic. We’ve essentially got the two best teams in the world competing against each other, so the learning experience, working with the officials that we have, is always amazing. You leave here a better person, a better official; that’s what we’re here for. That’s what I look forward to the most at these big-time events: the level of hockey and what you get out of it as a whole.

USAH: How did you first get into officiating?

Szkola: It’s been nine years since I got my start. I was a competitive figure skater and my older brother played hockey, so I’ve always been around the game, but it was my husband who actually got me into the officiating side of it. When we started dating, he was a roller and ice hockey official. He asked me to come with one time and I said ‘okay.’ That’s how I got started. It’s something he and I have in common and he is my biggest supporter. I wouldn’t be here without him.

USAH: So nine years under your belt, how would you describe some of your past IIHF events?

Szkola: I’ve had a handful of experiences with international tournaments. Each one has brought a new set of skills to my plate. You learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot from your supervisors from different countries as well. To get out and work with other female officials and learn from them and your supervisors is amazing.

Being in another country, where sometimes there aren’t people who even speak English, is a really unique experience as well. The communication that you learn to speak with non-English speaking officials really makes you appreciate what you have in common – hockey.

USAH: How did the Select Series compare to those events?

Szkola: The level of play, it’s definitely much higher at the Select Series than any of the championships that I’ve been to. I wouldn’t say that the intensity is much different, because at each level they are competing for their highest achievement. The intensity is the same, the importance is the same, but the level of play is definitely much better; it’s faster, it’s crisper. Your awareness just has to be that much higher.

USAH: Did calling a game with high-caliber players like those at the Select Series shake up any nerves?

Szkola: I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous before we got on the ice. I’ve watched Team USA and Team Canada compete before, so you know the level at which they intend to play. Being out there with it, you just know where the emotions can go sometimes. It was a little nerve-wracking before the start, but as soon as that puck drops, you have a job to do. USA Hockey does a fantastic job developing us; I feel like they wouldn’t put you out there if you weren’t ready. Once that puck drops, you’re kind of at home.

USAH: What’s next for your officiating future?

Szkola: The support that I have, not only from my hometown in Michigan, but also the support and development USA Hockey has given really sets you up for success if you want to take it in that direction. That is my goal. I do want to skate in the Olympics. Moving forward I am going to continue to improve upon each experience that I have, because you can always be better. Mistakes do get made, so you learn from those and improve yourself. 

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