Falcons soar to end postseason `curse'

AT PLAY

Severna Park ice hockey team is first Arundel squad to reach the state finals, but falls short of victory

March 08, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Severna Park High School ice hockey team felt a little more nervous than most when the playoffs started.

The Falcons felt a bit cursed. In recent years, they couldn't get past the second round of the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League playoffs. The juniors and seniors wondered whether they were a bit like the Boston Red Sox, who for more than 80 years battled a famous postseason curse.

But Severna Park left some other teams cursing this season. The Falcons earned a first-round bye and prevailed in the next three rounds, becoming the first Anne Arundel County team to reach the state final. A late rally, though, fell short as Churchill High held on for a 6-5 victory on Feb. 27 at The Gardens Ice House in Laurel.

"Once we got past the second round ... a lot of the seniors were kind of breathing a little bit easier," said sophomore Matt Tinordi, who finished with 39 goals and 22 assists. "It kind of gave them more confidence. We were playing panicky the first two games, and everyone played fine from there."

Montgomery County teams had long dominated play in the MSHL, but teams in other areas have slowly become more competitive, and Severna Park is one of them. Another is South River, which lost to Churchill, 8-5, in the state semifinals.

Severna Park grew into one of the league's top offensive teams, posting a 22-5 record (13-3 in league play).

The Falcons beat two Montgomery County schools in the playoffs. They opened by routing Walt Whitman, 9-2.

After putting the early-rounds hex to rest by edging Glenelg from Howard County, 7-6, they beat Rockville's Thomas S. Wootton, 4-3. That put Severna Park into the final against Winston Churchill, another Montgomery team.

Churchill jumped ahead, 6-2, in the title game. The Falcons kept their resolve despite the loss, scoring three times in the third period.

"I think this was the best chemistry on [a team] I've ever had," Severna Park coach Chuck Fox said. "The kids just really got along and everybody worked together. They just worked so hard."

This was Fox's sixth year as the Severna Park coach, and he knows that hockey is different from other sports. It's not recognized by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association because not enough schools participate. Montgomery County has the most schools that play hockey, but Anne Arundel is catching up.

Fox also said that the growing strength of Severna Park and other county teams might help public school programs retain players who otherwise would have gone to private schools.

"One of the things we keep talking about is that we hope the kids will stay in the public schools if they want to play hockey," Fox said. "They don't have to go to private school to play good hockey. It's really starting to even out."

Unlike other athletes, the Severna Park hockey team doesn't practice every day. They practice once or twice a week and play one or two games a week.

Everything was made more difficult when the Benfield Pines Ice Rink closed last summer and was converted to a rec facility that focused on soccer.

Benfield was a 10-minute drive from Severna Park and losing that facility forced the Falcons to move practices and home games to Bowie's rink - about 30 minutes away. Fox said the Falcons used to draw large crowds from the school for their late Friday afternoon games at Benfield. But that changed when Severna Park went to Bowie. The new game times, 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, also kept more fans away.

"It definitely hurt with Benfield closing," Fox said.

The Falcons still got plenty of notice at the school. The middle school there also has a hockey team that works as a feeder system for the varsity team. They'll need that next year with the departure of top scorer Luke Freeman (32 goals, 39 assists) and goalie Maxie Weisz.

Weisz is believed to be the first female goalie to play in the MSHL final. When the Falcons needed a goalie for 2004-05 season, the players asked her to play for them.

Fox had no qualms about starting a female goalie. In fact, freshman Stephanie Rindfleisch was the backup.

"Good players are good players," Fox said. "It doesn't matter what gender they are."

By getting Anne Arundel County and Severna Park into the final for the first time, the Falcons helped break down another wall. The Montgomery County schools likely won't dominate like they have, and Severna Park hopes to return.

"It was definitely weird because there's never been an Anne Arundel school in the championship, but that definitely made it more fun," Freeman said. "To be competitive with the other schools in the area and to go all the way like that was just great."

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