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Weselenchuk honoring USA heroes on World University Games mask

12/09/2013, 7:00am MST
By John Tranchina - Special to USAHockey.com

When goaltender Wyatt Waselenchuk takes the ice for Team USA at the Winter World University Games Dec. 10-21 in Trentino, Italy, he will be doing it in style, wearing a special mask designed specifically for the tournament.

The 24-year-old senior at Minot State (N.D.) University will be unmistakable in net with his flashy headgear that includes an homage to 1980 U.S. Olympic Team icon Jim Craig on one side and the mythical character Uncle Sam on the other. Renowned Montreal-based mask artist David Leroux painted Weselenchuk’s mask.

“On one side you have Uncle Sam, which looks pretty crazy, and on the other side is Jim Craig,” Waselenchuk explained. “And then, it has some eagles on it, the stars and stripes in the background, the USA Hockey logo is on the chin. It’s pretty crazy.

“I like the back-plate on it; I think it turned out pretty cool, with our Minot State logo in red, white and blue. [Leroux] just added lots of touches to it, so there’s lots of stuff on there.”

The U.S. Men’s National University Team, which is comprised of players from collegiate ice hockey teams affiliated with the American Collegiate Hockey Association, will be looking to improve on its sixth-place finish in 2011, the best in U.S. history.

It’s almost too bad that the mask was crafted solely for the upcoming international tournament, because the mask truly looks spectacular.

“It just kind of came into fruition out of nowhere. It wasn’t anything I was planning on,” said Waselenchuk, who is 6-3 this season with four shutouts, a 1.67 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage for Minot State. “To put that kind of effort into something that’s so short-term, it almost feels like a waste. But that being said, a lot of people said it’s going to be such a good memento to have, put it up on the mantle when we’re done and always look back at it and say, ‘What an experience.’ ”

Waselenchuk, who backstopped the Beavers to the ACHA national championship last spring, elaborated on the genesis of the mask’s creation.

“I didn’t even think about doing anything like that, but I had someone approach me and said they’d like to do something like that for me,” he said. “So I gave a call to my normal painter that I’d worked with on the mask that I’m using right now, and threw a couple of ideas back and forth with him, and the main idea I wanted to do was that Jim Craig side. That was pretty cool. I remember growing up seeing that poster hanging up. My dad always had it, so I thought, ‘What an opportunity, what a chance to display that on the mask.’ I can’t really take too much credit for it other than the idea; the painter did an amazing job.”

As patriotic as the mask looks, it’s almost surprising to discover that Waselenchuk actually grew up in Port Moody, B.C., and derived his admiration for Craig from the movie “Miracle” more than anything else. But Waselenchuk does possess dual citizenship and, as such, qualified to represent the United States internationally.

“Just watching that movie, it was a pretty cool inspiration in a way, so I just thought it would be pretty cool to honor him in a way,” Waselenchuk said of Craig. “It’s kind of very surreal, but I’m not technically from the States, I’m a dual citizen. The people that were putting this team together got a hold of me last year and said, ‘Hey, we heard that you have dual citizenship, would you be able to pursue it?’ And I figured, ‘Why not?’ My mom’s from California, my dad’s from Saskatchewan in Canada. They met and, through my mom, I have dual citizenship. I ended up getting my passport this summer.”

And just because he didn’t grow up within U.S. borders doesn’t mean that Waselenchuk, who previously played junior hockey for Langley in the British Columbia Hockey League, isn’t honored and humbled to be chosen to pull on the Team USA jersey.

“It’s indescribable what it means to me to be able to do something at this level, and I just can’t thank the organization and the coaching staff enough for selecting me,” said Waselenchuk. “It’s an amazing honor. It leaves me kind of speechless to do something like this on an international level.”

His mask will likely leave opponents speechless.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

To view more of David Leroux’s handiwork, visit www.dielairbrush.ca.

Date Opponent Time (ET)/Result
12/10 Sweden W, 2-0
12/13 Latvia W, 3-2 OT
12/15 Italy L, 1-5
12/18 Italy (Quarterfinals) W, 5-0
12/20 Kazakhstan (Semifinals) L, 1-5
12/21 Russia (Bronze Medal Game) L, 2-6

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When it comes to women’s hockey, there is no argument that USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have the two premier programs in the world. Earlier this month, their young talent took to the ice in Lake Placid, New York, as a part of the U18 and U22 Select Series.

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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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