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Great Falls wins long-awaited return home

01/17/2014, 4:15pm MST
By Tom Robinson - Special to

Goals were tough to come by when the Great Falls Americans returned home for the first time in a month on Saturday night. The game went scoreless into the second overtime before Dylan Garton, a Great Falls native, gave the Americans a 1-0 win over the Billings Bulls in the American West Hockey League. Cody Page and Lucas Stover assisted on the goal.

Daniel Oordt had made 45 saves for Billings before Garton broke through. The win was the Americans’ second overtime victory in as many nights. The Americans topped the Glacier Nationals 5-4 Friday.

The second-place Americans (25-6-1) got 22 saves from Erik Powell for his third shutout of the season Saturday.

MOVING UP: Minnesota Junior Hockey League scoring leader Lane King earned a call-up to the North American Hockey League’s Brookings Blizzard after scoring 82 points in 29 games for the Great Lakes Division-leading Marquette Royals.

King had 69 assists and 23 power-play points with Marquette. He has 23 multi-point games, including an eight-point effort against the Wisconsin Rampage and three other games with at least five points.

PLAYOFF BOUND: The Flint Junior Generals and Granite City Lumberbacks clinched North American 3 Hockey League playoff berths on consecutive nights, joining the North Iowa Bulls, who were the first to clinch.

Flint’s Brett Leppek scored both goals and Anders Franke made 25 saves to lift the Junior Generals over the Metro Jets 2-1 Friday. Flint leads the East Division and has the second-best record in the entire NA3HL with a 31-3-2 record.

Christian Mohs and Zac Sikich each had four points Saturday when the Lumberjacks defeated the Peoria Mustangs, 7-3. Granite City (25-8-0) is second to North Iowa in the West Division.

SHOWDOWN SWEEP: The first-place Boston Junior Bruins won consecutive games from the Jersey Hitmen in a meeting of the two winningest teams in the United States Premier Hockey League Premier Division. Boston won 4-1 Friday and 3-2 Saturday.

Boston’s Brian Bowen broke a 1-1 tie and scored consecutive goals 1:42 apart late in the second period Friday. Sean Lawrence made 32 saves in the win and followed up with 33 more Saturday.

The Junior Bruins then went on to a 6-3 win over the Islanders Hockey Club Wednesday afternoon for their eighth straight win. Boston is 14-0-2-0 in the last 16 to improve to 28-3-2-1 overall.

COLLEGE COMMITMENTS: Two Waterloo Black Hawks veterans recently announced their college commitments. Defenseman Dane Cooper is headed to Brown University while forward Blake Winiecki has committed to St. Cloud State University.

Cooper, a third-year member of the United States Hockey League team, is a 19-year-old from Chicago. He has 10 assists and is plus-11 through 27 games.

Winiecki is tied for the team lead and seventh in the league with 16 goals, and he also has 11 assists in 31 games during his second season in the USHL. The Lakeville, Minn. native has five goals in his last three games, including his first hat trick Jan. 4 and a career-high, four-point game on his 20th birthday on Jan. 10.

Dubuque Fighting Saints defenseman Blake Hillman is committed to the University of Denver and Sioux Falls Stampede forward Dakota Joshua is committed to Ohio State University.

Hillman has a goal and six assists in 30 games. He shares the team lead at plus-12. The Elk River, Minn. resident will be 18 later this month.

Joshua has eight goals and 12 assists in 32 games. He has seven goals in his last 14 games. The 17-year-old from Dearborn, Mich. also played parts of last season with the Stampede and with the U.S. National Under-17 Team.

Sean Mostrom, a defenseman with the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees of the NAHL, is also headed to Denver. The 19-year-old from Wayzata, Minn. becomes the first active Killer Bee to commit to an NCAA Division I school. Mostrom, who has three goals and six assists in 25 games this season, played with the Alexandria/Brookings Blizzard in his previous two seasons in the league.

Aberdeen Wings forward T.J. Roo is headed to Bemidji State University. Roo, 19, from Champlain Park, Minn., has 10 goals and 18 assists as an NAHL rookie.

USHL LEADERS: Youngstown Phantoms scoring leader Kyle Connor scored his first USHL hat trick Saturday in a 6-3 win over Team USA. Indiana Ice goalie Jason Pawloski, who is second in the USHL with 17 wins, has held opponents to one goal or none nine times this season.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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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.

While there were several athletes on both teams who competed for their country in such an event for the first time, it also marked a special occasion for Melissa Szkola. An experienced official who has worked a handful of International Ice Hockey Federation events, Lake Placid marked her first USA-Canada affair. USA Hockey caught up with the Michigan native to talk about the amazing international experience and her evolving officiating career.

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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