Little Capitals providing a hockey outlet for girls

Rockville recreation teams play against country's elite

Youth Sports

April 10, 1999|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Rene Weisz brought hockey equipment home for the first time, he thought he was about to introduce his young son to a game he loved as a child growing up in Germany. Turns out he was half right. Weisz's son picked up the sport, but so did another member of the family, Weisz's 5-year-old daughter, Maxie.

That was six years ago. Now, Maxie Weisz is a goaltending prodigy on the Washington Little Capitals 15-and-under girls hockey team. Her father coaches the team and says his daughter definitely has the talent to earn a college hockey scholarship, something very few male hockey players from Maryland accomplish.

Weisz is not alone. Thirty-thousand girls play hockey in the United States, compared to about 5,000 in 1990. And after Team USA's high-profile triumph in last year's Winter Olympics, the popularity of women's hockey is cresting.

The sport is catching on more slowly in Maryland than in traditional hockey areas like upstate New York and New England, but the Little Capitals provide hockey-crazed girls in the state with a chance to travel and play against elite competition.

This weekend, they are playing host to 37 other top recreational girls teams for the USA Hockey Amateur National Championship. More than 600 girls are competing in the tournament at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, and the Little Capitals have teams competing in three age groups -- 12-and-under, 15-and-under and 19-and-under. The competition ends tomorrow.

"When we won the right to host the tournament two years ago, we weren't even sure we'd still be around," says Kush Sidhu, the coach of the 19-and-under team and founder of the Rockville-based female Little Capitals.

Sidhu was an assistant coach on the first women's national team in 1990, but when he first came to Maryland in 1995, there were few organized teams for girls. Then, Kerry Robinson, the late president of the Little Capitals club, which has fielded traveling boys teams for years, called and asked if Sidhu would be interested in starting a top-notch women's program. Sidhu agreed.

Now, the Little Capitals attract players from all over Maryland, Washington and Virginia and travel to locations as remote as Finland and Sweden to find good competition. They aren't likely to beat teams from Connecticut and Syracuse, where prep-school girls have been playing hockey for 40 years, but they produce players who can compete in college.

Sidhu thinks women's hockey has a chance to become much bigger in Maryland, precisely because girls have a good chance to end up playing in college. He estimates that the 30,000 girls playing hockey are competing for spots at about 40 different schools, compared to 350,000 boys competing for spots at about 70 colleges.

Right now Sidhu seldom cuts anyone who tries out for the Little Capitals, and players come from as far away as North Carolina. But with the additions in the last two years of the 12-and-under and 15-and-under teams, Sidhu expects Maryland girls to get better in a hurry.

Maxie Weisz, a Severna Park resident, is an example of what can happen. Introduced to the sport at age 5, she is now 11 and starting in goal for the the 15-and-under team.

Corrie van Reuth, a 14-year-old who also lives in Severna Park, is another young veteran. The right wing on the 15-and-under Little Capitals, she started playing in third grade after watching her father play in a recreational hockey league.

In the past, girls like Weisz and van Reuth would have had to play against boys, something Sidhu thinks is not necessarily healthy.

"After they turn 13, if they're playing with boys, they don't get the puck as much," he says. "It might become a pride issue of, `Oh, I can play with boys,' but they're sacrificing development. Their future is not in boys hockey; it's in girls hockey."

Van Reuth has played against boys most of her life and she confirms it is often unpleasant.

"They don't talk to you," she said. "They're like talking about things you don't even know about, and you're just like, `Yeah right, whatever.' "

But there are a few factors standing in the way of wider popularity. In Maryland, ice space is limited and expensive (as much as $280 an hour.) The Little Capitals also have to travel to find adequate competition, so a season can cost as much as $12,000 per player.

"I think it will take another two or three years," Sidhu says. "I think the Olympics brought the dream to a lot of girls, and we just have to give them time."

Pub Date: 4/10/99

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