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Maturity helps Menard make his officiating mark

Mike Menard didn't get to skate around with the USA Hockey Tournament plaque, nor did he get to lay on the ice and pose with a championship banner before his hometown fans at Northtown Center in Amherst like Justin Bailey did last Sunday.

The spotlight wasn't on Menard and that's a good thing because as an official your job is to call a good game instead of earning any unwanted attention.

Menard, a fifth-year official who just turned 19 on Thursday, had his national-championship moment Saturday night when he was one of 12 selected out of the pool of 37 on-ice officials to work the four boys Tier I USA Hockey Tournament finals last Sunday. Menard, a freshman who plays club hockey for Canisius College, served as a linesman during the Under-14 title game. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights beat the St. Louis Blues, 4-2, in that contest.

The winner of that game is immaterial in this case. The fact that a teenager earned the right to officiate a game of such magnitude involving other teenagers is simply impressive.

Let's be honest. It takes a person with a certain level of maturity and calm to be able to act as a mediator in a fast, emotional sport like hockey, let alone a teen. Hockey is a sport where even the coolest cats (players, coaches and sometimes officials) can lose their cools depending on circumstances. The fact Menard has been selected to officiate in two USA Hockey Tournaments in his short time as a ref is a sign he may have a future in the sport beyond the youth level.

"Mike has progressed tremendously," said Gary Cutler, referee in chief for New York State Amateur Hockey Association's West Section. "The way he carried himself out there if he keeps up what he's doing, keeps his head on straight, he could have a nice career."

Cutler said he noticed Menard two or three years ago while working a referee camp in Potsdam. He picked Menard to work a few North American prospect league games, a training ground for those who want to move up to the junior ranks. He liked his work so much, he picked Menard to work a championship game of one of those games.

"He really impressed me with his maturity and how he has grown not only as a person but an official. So come January, USA Hockey sends out a show of interest form for nationals. I sent him one, he said yes," Cutler said. "Out of the 33 guys from around the area, we had a little discussion about all of them and he was selected [for the USA Hockey Tournament]."

A sign of just how far Menard has come since working last year's Tier II national tournament, he worked a couple Tier I games involving kids his own age (18) -- including one as a referee.

"USA Hockey has a certain level you're able to work and normally you're not allowed to work at your [age] level or level below but at national championships you're given your assignment through USA Hockey and they believed in me that I could do the job," Menard said.

"At the end, it's just two teams who want to win the game regardless of the circumstances," he said. "You want to work each game the same and keep as consistent every time but in the back of your mind you're thinking, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm working this game,' but through it all you're there for a reason because somebody saw something in you. Just the fact you're out there working the game is something. But in the end you just want to work the game the best you can."

Menard admits he's having thoughts about pursuing on-ice officiating as a career, but the marketing major has plenty of time to consider that option.

"I think the ultimate goal is to work in a professional league but I think the NHL is attainable," Menard said.


No titles, lots of game

Reporting Western New York's five girls hockey teams performed well at nationals would be quite the understatement.

Three national runners-up and a final four team.

The only way last weekend would have gotten better would have been if one of the girls' teams had pulled off the unthinkable and captured a national championship.

The Bisons' 16-under Tier I team lost in the final, 3-2, to perennial national power Assabet Valley. The West Seneca Wings' 12-under team's ride from Tier II underdog to first-time national qualifier for its respective organization ended in a championship game loss, too. The Buffalo Regals' 14-under Tier II girls lost in the national final to Alaska, 2-1.

The Bisons' 14-under team beat last year's Tier I national champions Mid-Fairfield in double overtime, 3-2, in the quarterfinals before running into a hot goalie during a 1-0 semifinal loss to the East Coast Wizards.

"I think it speaks volumes about girls hockey in this area," said Alan Elia of the national showing by WNY's girls.

Elia's two daughters play for the Bisons' 14-under and 16-under teams, while he's a former Niagara Junior Purple Eagles president.

"It just shows the level of coaching and the amount of girls playing hockey in this area. It's great," said Elia, who is currently head of discipline committee for NYSAHA.


Around the boards

*The Buffalo Junior Sabres/Regals 18-Under boys Tier I team didn't reach the playoff portion of nationals, but perhaps they're closer to getting over the hump than one might think. They went 3-3 against the two teams playing in last Saturday's national semifinal, the L.A. Jr. Kings and Pittsburgh Hornets.

*This is the final youth hockey column of the season. Keep sending news and notes to the email address below.