A post-holiday road trip

Hockey: Families forgo shopping to wake up before dawn and spend Black Friday at their children's games.

November 29, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The 5 a.m. wake-up on the day after Thanksgiving was brutal but worth it for Chris and Cynthia Soucie and their two children, who piled into their car and set off for another holiday weekend of youth ice hockey at the Columbia Ice Rink.

As thousands of Maryland residents streamed to shopping centers and malls for Black Friday holiday bargains, a few dozen dedicated people, such as the Soucies of Charlottesville, Va., rose before dawn yesterday to get their kids to the annual eastern regional Silver Stick youth hockey tournament.

For families such as these, Thanksgiving means ice hockey as much as turkey dinner.

"I don't think I've spent a Thanksgiving at home for years," said Rich Snively, whose son Joe, 7, scored a goal for the victorious Reston Raiders.

Eight-year-old Brendan Soucie scored a goal too, an experience he contemplated before labeling it "OK." Valerie, his 6-year-old sister, watched from the sidelines. The family traveled to Columbia on Thanksgiving night and stayed in a hotel to make the 7 a.m. game time.

The eastern regionals this weekend will feature 115 games involving 66 teams from seven states competing in a spectrum of age classifications, from age 8 and under to age 18. They are among more than 63,000 coaches and players participating in a series of Silver Stick regional tournaments, which will culminate in January with the North American Finals Tournaments played in greater Port Huron, Mich. and across the border in Canada.

Debbie Valenza of Long Reach, in Columbia, had three sons in the tournament. Frank, 11, Vincent, 8 and Anthony, 6, play on a travel team. Four-year-old Thomas wants to play, too, she said, and 13-year-old Lianne, who was home asleep, used to play, "until it became physical," her mother said. Vincent, wearing No. 66, played in a loss for the Howard Huskies, who fell 10-2 to the Ashburn, Va., Xtreme.

"I would love to be shopping today," Valenza said. But she and her husband, Frank Sr., are committed to the ice hockey life in winter. The kids enjoy it, she said. "It keeps them busy."

It is an expensive commitment

In addition to the hours of chauffeuring kids around, and the out-of-town games, Debbie Valenza volunteers 20 hours to 30 hours a month to help the league. Families spend $250 to $500 to equip each player, several parents said, and pay a $1,150 registration fee per child for the season, which runs from early practices in August to the end of March. This weekend's tournament is being played at three local ice rinks -- in Columbia, Piney Orchard in Odenton, and in Laurel.

Although many of the players became interested in hockey because they have parents from New England, Michigan or other places where the sport is popular, Vanessa Lichliter, the Huskies' team manager, said her son Mason wanted to play after seeing the movie Mighty Ducks about kids playing the sport.

"My husband and I don't even skate." she said, looking around the refrigerator-cold dressing room as several moms helped their half-dressed sons don their bulky equipment.

"Would I do it for myself?" she asked before the Huskies' 8 a.m. game started. "No," she said. But doing it for her son is another matter.

Mason said he likes ice hockey because it's "rough," though no body checking is allowed until the kids reach age 10 and play in the Pee-Wee league. Mason used to play roller hockey but prefers ice skating, he said.

Several parents who gathered for the 7 a.m. game, in which the Reston team beat the Montgomery Blue Devils, 5-0, said they're not worried about their children being injured or the aggressiveness they must learn to be effective in the fast-paced game.

"Our kids enjoy it," said Jennifer Marks, of Clifton, Va., who said her family woke up at 4:50 a.m. and left their home west of Fairfax, Va., 20 minutes later. "It's a real passion for our boys. I don't feel worried because they're really well-protected" by helmets with full metal face masks, big shoulder pads that stretch down over ribs, back and shin guards, and big padded gloves.

"Nathan has been playing organized hockey since he was 5, and he's never been hurt," she said of her 8-year-old son. "The first time he played soccer, he tripped on the grass and broke his arm."

Lucy Hurd of Potomac said she brought her son Peter, 8 to Columbia, while her husband Bruce was to take Matt, 11, and Markus, 5, to Philadelphia later in the day for another game.

"The team experience really seems to be good for the kids," she said, noting that although the equipment is good, "we've had concussions." Aggressiveness isn't a problem off the ice, she said.

The sport is a "good outlet" for her boys' energy, she said.

"I have very active boys," she said. "It's a very high-energy crowd."

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