Lacing up for a slapshot at the championships

Tournament: 56 teams from seven states will take the ice in Howard County to determine who will advance to the Silver Stick finals this winter.

November 18, 2001|By Gary Davidson | Gary Davidson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Columbia Ice Rink can be a laid-back place on weekdays, growing busier by nightfall, when hockey practices begin. On weekends, the building buzzes with league games.

Starting Friday, the atmosphere will become more charged with anticipation and energy as the 11th annual Eastern regionals of the Silver Stick Hockey Tournament begins. Through next Sunday, 56 teams from seven states - about 1,000 players - will battle to determine champions in five age groups.

Winners will play other regional titleholders from the United States and Canada in the Silver Stick finals, which will be held this winter in Michigan or Canada, depending on the age group.

"The tournament has become very prestigious over the years just from the competition standpoint alone," said Columbia's John Buba, a board member of the sponsoring Howard County Youth Hockey Club (HCYHC) and former tournament director.

"We have so many teams from various parts of the East Coast coming together - teams that have not played each other at all during the previous part of the year, where they see this as a real challenge."

The entry fee is $850 a team.

"It's really competitive - a lot of good teams. It's a good tournament to watch and play," said Khalil Rizvi, 17, a forward for the Howard Huskies Midget Black. Rizvi also plays for Atholton High in the area's high school league, which operates independently from the county school system.

"It's real exciting because you play competition from up and down the East Coast," Rizvi said. "Sometimes it's teams you've never seen before, so it's exciting to see how good each team will be and how good you'll be against them. I think it is the best event of the year in this area."

Like most youth activities, the Silver Stick tournament depends on adult volunteers.

Bob Masiulis, the tourney director, started working on the event in early June. Though he never played the game, hockey has become a family affair in his Ellicott City household.

His sons - Dan, 14, and Chris, 12 - play on Howard Huskies teams. His wife, Barbara, is a hockey mom and frequent volunteer. And 16-year-old daughter Sara's typing skills have become essential to the administration of the tournament.

"Initially, I was asked as a board member to help participate in it," Masiulis said. "I kind of enjoyed the challenge of it. It is a lot of work, but it's fun to see the kids having fun for three days on a weekend. And we do get a lot of compliments for what we've done here."

The club also put on a B-level tournament Oct. 7 to 9 with 36 teams.

Getting a child involved in hockey is not for parents who are faint of heart.

The Howard Huskies, as HCYHC is known, has about 300 players - including fewer than 10 girls who play on boys' teams.

The price for each to play is $1,200 a year in the Pee Wee, Bantam and Midget age groups, or $875 for the "nonchecking" Mites and Squirts. Add to that the equipment, which runs at least $500 new or $200 to $300 used for each player, and hockey becomes a costly venture.

"The lack of ice surfaces makes it hard to expand from beyond where we are," said Ellicott City's Bob Falk, the hockey club's president.

Falk never played the sport, either, but brought sons Justin, 25, Jonathan, 22, and Robby, 19, through the program.

"In our club, 80 percent [of the cost] is borne by the parents," Falk said. "We do fund-raisers."

Once players are exposed to the sport, many are hooked for life, even though only one player from this area - the Washington Capitals' Jeff Halpern - has made it to the National Hockey League and only a few get a second glance from Division I college programs.

"It gives you a rush when you're on the ice. It's just fun, no more than that," said Patrick Riley, 15, a left wing for the Huskies Midget Black and Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore, a perennial contender for honors in the area high school league.

"I've played hockey since I'm real small," said Riley. "My brothers played it ... and I've played it ever since. I've gotten better as I've grown older, and it's just fun. It's hard to explain, but it's not a chore."

Silver Stick tournament

What: 11th annual Silver Stick hockey tournament, Eastern regionals

When: Friday through Sunday

Where: Headquarters is the Columbia Ice Rink, Oakland Mills Village Center, Columbia. Friday and Saturday games also will be played at Gardens Ice House, 13800 Old Gunpowder Road, Laurel; and Piney Orchard, 8781 Piney Orchard Parkway, Odenton.

Age groups: Mites (5-8 years old), Squirts (9-10), Pee Wees (11-12), Bantams (13-14), Midgets (15-18)

Regional finals: Sunday at Columbia Ice Rink. Mites, 7 a.m.; Squirts, 8:30 a.m., Pee Wees 10 a.m.; Bantams, 11:40 a.m.; Midgets, 1:20 p.m.

Admission: Free. For schedules, check headquarters or www.howardhuskies.com.

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