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Hilary Knight Featured in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2014

07/08/2014, 8:30pm MDT
By USA Hockey

Check out the online exclusive with Olympian Hilary Knight from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2014 below. Published on ESPN.com

It's amazing what a little button can do. When you're younger, you're always slipping, and if you could make it across the ice sheet and back, you'd get this little button which you fasten to your laces. So I remember being like, "OK, I really want all the buttons."

It's this bulldozer effect on the ice. I noticed that if I'm 185 pounds or more [as I was for the Olympics], I get this crazy power-forward mentality and no one can stop me. I definitely still felt feminine at 185. I just jumped right in and took hold of being proud and happy with being a female athlete.

I caught someone's sunglasses on a roller coaster once. It was somewhere in Ohio -- Cedar Point or something like that -- one of those thrill rides. A few cars up, someone's sunglasses had fallen off, and we were on one of those corkscrew parts, and I saw sunglasses and just instinctively grabbed them right out of the air. I was like, "Oh, my reaction time is really good. This is going well."

I want to be a player that you have to watch. I think it speaks volumes when you are able to be in the back of the other team's mind. Knowing that every time No. 21 steps on the ice -- that's a player you're going to want to watch because something great is going to be created.

I developed this monster presence mantra. It's this power force that's super strong and is something that the women's game hasn't seen for a few years.

I had this idea that muscular isn't feminine. There is this image of athletic women as small and petite -- the yoga body type. Women in general, we tend to shrink ourselves and not have as much confidence as we should in presenting ourselves and our body types. It's OK to be fit and healthy and comfortable within your body, whatever frame you have. Since gaining 15 pounds to be at the top of my sport [for the Olympics], I've tried to shatter the body image that muscular isn't feminine.

I'm totally different off the ice. I almost think of it as a transformer. You've got this normal car, and then all of a sudden you have to transform into this monster car complex in order to save the world. I like the superhero analogies.

Goblet squats are probably my favorite thing to do for training. For a goblet squat, you hold either a kettlebell or dumbbell with your palms facing up, so you're sort of cupping it palms up and you're in a squat position and you're literally just bending down and pretending as if you're sitting in a chair and you're going to explode up with your feet still on the ground.

I'm big into fire-cupping. The benefits, both physically and mentally, got me addicted. Think of just a jar, almost like a goldfish jar, on your skin. It looks like a pockmark because it's pulling your skin into the jar. You may have a bruise or it might just be swelling in the muscle, and by cupping that area, it picks up the tissue and lets more blood flow to the area, more oxygen, and cuts your recovery time. After you pull the cups off, it looks like you have a bunch of hickeys all over your body. It's an interesting kind of look -- kind of like a leopard.

I love being a part of a team sport. I know my responsibility to each one of my teammates, and they know theirs to me. It's sort of this symbiotic effort of trying to work together to achieve whatever goal we're trying to achieve. You have to be selfless in your training because you're a part of something that's bigger than yourself. Being surrounded by great women and amazing role models and good teammates allowed me to unfold and evolve into the person that I am today.

I think it's pretty cool to be an elite athlete. I'm able to be able to achieve certain things that others aren't -- whether it's a reaction time or the idea of a coffee that's about to be spilled and I'm able to grab it before anyone else or whatever it is. So I think that's a pretty unique and cool thing.

I don't have to grow up. I wear yoga pants and get to work out all the time -- it's my job. I feel a little bit different when I go into what I call "the real world." It's cool to be able to train as a full-time job, and it's something that I love and will continue to try to make work for the next however many years.

One time we had to swim in a pool with sweatsuits on. It's a lot harder than it sounds. With the water weighing you down, you feel like you're going to drown ... you're swimming for dear life. But somehow everyone survived.

If one of my teammates gets roughed up, I'm going to step in. I have this protective mentality. I think just being bigger, some of the other girls are definitely intimidated by that presence. It's this physical presence but also this emotional, mental sense as well that I'm able to bring to the table.

I'm a huge believer in leading by example. If you see someone battle in the corner and come up with the puck, you get really excited as a teammate, knowing that they're giving their all. I hope that inspires other teammates and motivates them for the next shift.

For more visit ESPN The Magazine Body Issue

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INTEGRITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN OFFICIATING

08/25/2015, 3:30pm MDT
By USA Hockey

No one has ever said that officiating, and especially officiating ice hockey, was easy. Rule knowledge, communication skills, fitness, skating and a natural presence are just some of the skills necessary to be a successful official.  Some possess more of these skills and those are the officials who advance to higher levels. But regardless of the level achieved or the skill set the official possesses, the one quality that should be equal among every official is a high level of integrity.

The national official staff members, along with our volunteer referees-in-chief and local supervisors, have heard growing concerns over a decreasing level of integrity among our youth hockey officials. It’s sometimes said that no one is holding them accountable. A portion of this perception is likely a typical “blame the officials” mentality, but some anecdotal evidence suggests there is also some merit to this concern. That’s alarming to USA Hockey, as it affects the credibility of our entire program, along with every member it represents. The blunt truth is this: even one official who isn’t on the up and up can and will damage the credibility of all officials who do take pride in the integrity of their work.

Whether we like it or not, officials are under a microscope, and by the nature of the business, are held to a very high standard. When we signed up for this officiating gig, we committed ourselves to represent the game of hockey, USA Hockey, our local group of officials and ourselves as people of integrity who accept the responsibility and guardianship of enforcing the rules in a fair and consistent manner. Most importantly, we must remember that the game is bigger than all of us and that the game itself is what we serve. Those who lose sight of that not only compromise the competitive fairness of the games, they also make life more difficult for all of the officials by damaging the credibility of the officiating community.

An example of this type of unacceptable behavior occurred last season. A Level 2 adult official tended to work his games with a chip on his shoulder. He often created confrontation with coaches, alienated his younger partners with inaccurate advice and disregarded their help in attempting to get some calls and rule applications right. Even though the help they were providing was correct, he chose to maintain his incorrect position that affected the outcome of several games. He also tended to identify certain players and single them out for various infractions and/or on-ice lectures as a means of emphasizing his authority.

Once the trends were identified, concerns were voiced by several parents and coaches to the local assigner and supervisor, who acknowledged they had never seen the official’s work, but would keep throwing him out there working the same teams and levels that had expressed concerns regarding his attitude. This included intentionally assigning him a playoff game involving the coach who was the most vocal in expressing concerns. This official was then instructed to “throw the coach out if he says anything.”

That playoff game went without a hitch – a tight 2-1 game with a couple of close off-side plays and maybe an icing or two missed. In the post-game dressing room, the official in question, in the presence of his partners and the officials scheduled to work the next game, said, “It’s always a great day when you can make one or both of the coaches mad. It’s too bad the white team coach didn’t want to play along today.” The partners sat there in silence until finally a 12-year-old Level 1 official who was working the next game said, “I don’t think that’s right. We’re not supposed to bait coaches.”

The official got dressed quickly and left the room without saying another word. Kind of ironic that it was the innocent 12-year-old that seemed to “get it” and instill a sense of accountability among those in the room. Imagine how any 12-year-old player feels on the ice when they see the official(s) displaying an attitude that is simply not to the standard the game deserves. And yes, more often than not, they can see through those who do not have the level of integrity expected.

Fortunately, these types of officials are few and far between. But they do exist and to simply stick our heads in the sand and not address the concern is irresponsible. Each of us, as officials, has an obligation to behave in a professional manner at all times and take our role seriously. We have made a commitment to approach each game with the understanding that the game is about the players and we should be invisible until the players require us to appear as a result of infractions that occur. Respect is a two-way street and simply putting on the sweater with the USA Hockey crest suggests respect is warranted, but only if supported by your actions.

USA Hockey has an obligation to create a non-threatening environment that promotes respect for officials and an opportunity for officials to improve through education and evaluation. USA Hockey does this through playing rules, points of emphasis, zero tolerance policies and comprehensive education programs for officials, coaches, parents and players.

In return, the game expects USA Hockey officiating members to bring a professional image to every contest and an attitude that creates a positive environment and makes the game better. We realize everyone makes mistakes – it’s part of the game. However, laziness or unprofessional behavior is unacceptable and being creative in rule enforcement and not holding players/coaches accountable for infractions will only make the next team of officials’ jobs much more difficult and set them up for failure.

The reality is that the game official must always hold themselves to the highest level of integrity and behavior both on and off the ice. Maybe that’s fair, or maybe not, but it is the expectation we are required to meet.

As we head into the 2015-16 season, ask yourself if you are willing to meet that expectation. If the answer is yes, welcome back and we look forward to a great season.

SZKOLA TRADES TOE-PICK FOR WORLD-WIDE WHISTLE

08/27/2015, 9:00am MDT
By Kelly Erickson

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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