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Getting Involved Late, But Sticking With It; Area Ice Hockey Players Devoted to Sport

The Washington Post January 18, 2001 | Brian Straus Raymond Titus had been out of ice hockey for two years when he decided at the last minute to try out for the Loudoun County team last winter. He had quit the game when driving from his old home in Luray to recreational team practices in Charlottesville became too burdensome. The junior’s rust showed, and he was cut.

“Their first game was in two weeks, and my mom said, ‘You should go play.’ I did a quick tryout, and it wasn’t pretty,” Titus said.

But true to his philosophy that high school hockey in Loudoun County “is not about winning or losing — it’s about developing”, Raiders coach Gregg White allowed Titus to practice with the team.

“Everything started coming back to me, and it got to where I was [improving],” Titus said. “Coach told me he was putting me on the roster. I was really ecstatic.” Titus still is with the Raiders, having tallied two goals and two assists midway through his senior season.

There are talented players in the county, to be sure, but the face of hockey in Loudoun belongs to players like Titus, who took up the demanding and skills-intensive sport late and dedicated themselves to it. It is unusual for hockey players to begin playing at a high school age, but the increasing popularity of the sport has encouraged novices to give it a try. see here ashburn ice house

Despite a severe lack of ice time and the prohibitive cost of participating in an expensive, nonvarsity sport, five Loudoun teams participate in the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League (the teams, however, are not affiliated with their schools). Each has its compliment of club players who train with professional coaches and play all year, but many players are like Titus, whose enthusiasm outweighs their experience.

“The sport is probably growing quicker than the talent. Many of the very talented players that play in travel [leagues] are on a high school team, but there aren’t enough of those kids around to fill out all the schools,” White said. “We’re growing something here. We want to get as much involvement, get as many people skating as we can, so maybe five or six years down the road, we can say that Loudoun has the best hockey in the area.” The Raiders’ 0-6-0 record this season is a testament to hockey’s – – and the county’s — growth. Loudoun County posted .500 records in its first two seasons but lost seven players to Stone Bridge when the new school opened this fall. go to site ashburn ice house

White was concerned he would not be able to field a team, but he found 15 players willing to give it a go. Among those is junior captain Bobby Babusci, an in-line hockey player who traded his wheels for blades as a freshman. He leads Loudoun County with four goals and two assists.

“I never thought I’d play ice hockey. Just scoring a goal and having people from my high school cheer for me when I do it has been great,” Babusci said. “It’s frustrating to lose, and it’s frustrating to have [inexperienced players], but I just have to understand that two years I ago I was just like them, I was just picking it up. During practice, if I notice them doing something that I’ve been told not to do, I try to help them.” Hockey can grow only so much, however. Stone Bridge’s opening forced Loudoun County to abandon its junior varsity program, and Broad Run coach Steve Lorusso said he dissolved his JV team because he could not get them ice time.

The varsity teams do not practice during the season. The majority of available minutes at rinks such as Ashburn Ice House and Reston Ice Forum is taken up by games.

Money is an issue, as well. Because they are not recognized by the schools, the hockey teams fund themselves. Stone Bridge coach John Lynch said his team has an $18,000 budget for the season, and every hockey parent knows the time demands of early morning practices and long-distance travel.

“There’s going to be an ebb and flow over the next few years. We may eventually have to combine schools to keep it going,” White said. “With a lot of these kids, you really work with the basics. They hate losing, but they take a lot of pride in the strides they’re making.” First-year Stone Bridge has made an immediate impact. The Bulldogs are off to a 4-0 start and have outscored their opponents 35-8. Junior left wing Matt Lynch has scored 10 goals, and sophomore center Matt Fairchild has five. And junior goaltender Craig Vardy, a standout at Broad Run last year, has yielded just three goals.

“The kids have just been able to jell,” Lynch said. “I think the kids see that its a team thing.” Stone Bridge’s big test will come Feb. 9 against defending MSHL Tier II champion Broad Run, which still may be the most talented team in Loudoun despite the loss of Vardy. Unfortunately for the Spartans, a registration error forced them to forfeit their four victories, and Broad Run (0-4-1) will be hard-pressed to finish among the top three in the nine-team division and qualify for the playoffs. Lorusso said he is appealing the forfeits.

Brian Straus

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