Players from the Herring Run Recreation Center participate… (Baltimore Sun photo by Joe…)
On Tuesday, on a court renowned for housing some of Baltimore's best basketball, Kenyetta Riddick calmly moved into position between the plastic pipes.
On her 11th birthday, the exceedingly polite girl with glasses strapped on goalie pads for the first time and was nearly unbeatable in net. Playing at The Dome — where, since the 1980s, the city's elite basketball players have thrown down — Kenyetta and her sister, Kennisha, 13, helped lead the Mary E. Rodman Recreation Center team to a 3-0 victory against the Robert C. Marshall squad in the final of the inaugural 2011 NHL Street Hockey Tournament. The event, which featured approximately 60 kids between 8 and 13 years old from six Baltimore recreation centers, was designed to introduce the sport to a largely unfamiliar audience.
Kenyetta allowed just five goals in six games, gobbling up any shot within arm's reach. In the second half of the championship, less than a minute after Taja Horton had poked in a loose ball near the crease to give her team a 2-0 lead, Kennisha ripped the tournament's final score, a top-shelf blast from the point.
"Makes me want to play hockey," Taja, 12, said after the tournament, her championship medal draped from her neck.
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young organized the event in conjunction with the Washington Capitals and the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks. Young, who was heavily involved in bringing the Capitals to the city for the Baltimore Hockey Classic on Sept. 20, said he feels it will leave a lasting impression on the city's youth in a sport they might have been unfamiliar with previously.
"[Hockey] is a sport that's going to be wide open to them, a sport that they never were introduced to," Young, who served as Mary E. Rodman's honorary coach, said. "Now, I can see them wanting to go and play it on another level, going to the high school level and collegiate level.
"Who knows? We might have the next Washington Capital playing right here."
Errol Rausse, who played for the Capitals from 1979 to 1983, was Marshall's honorary coach during the finals and believes Washington is making a concerted effort to cultivate Charm City hockey fans.
"I think this speaks volumes about the Caps' commitment to draw more fans and to expose a lot more fans to this great game," he said. "They have made a commitment to reach out to Baltimore. This is a potentially huge fan market for them, as well."
Along with the teams from the Rodman and Marshall centers, Madison Square, Herring Run, Chick-Webb and Roosevelt had squads at the tournament.
Assuming attendance for the Baltimore Hockey Classic, in which the Capitals will play the Nashville Predators in an exhibition at 1st Mariner Arena, is robust, Young hopes Washington "will reach out and express an interest in playing a regular-season game in Baltimore."
"If we can sell that out, I'm quite sure they'd be interested in doing a game here," he said. "We don't want to steal their team, but we would like to have them share their team with us and play a few games here, as well."
A throng of Baltimore kids, clad in red Capitals headbands, wristbands and Band-Aids, now concur.
As Peter Robinson, the coordinator of amateur hockey and fan development for the Capitals, said, "The main goal is to make the sport of hockey accessible to everyone.
"The NHL and USA Hockey have a saying, which is, 'Hockey is for everyone.' And it is. And we're just trying to let everyone know that."