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Roller-blading helps attract new players to ice hockey Sport aids skaters who can't find ice time

It is easy for area high school hockey coaches to pinpoint why the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League has grown with nine new teams and nearly 300 new players in a two-year span.

"Roller-blading," Howard coach Michael Rand said.

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Roller-blading, featuring single-blade roller skates that dominated California sidewalks before taking over the country a few years ago, allows young athletes in warmer climates such as Maryland to simulate ice skating.

With the local rinks' ice time at an all-time premium, the chance for a young child or teen-ager to skate outdoors when the temperature is 80 degrees provides an invaluable training tool.

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"Roller-blading, or in-line skating as it is also called, has had a tremendous impact on our program," said Mount Hebron coach Leandro Lagera, who has 24 players on his roster.

"A lot of my kids play roller hockey in the summer and ask other kids they play with to come try out for our team.

"Out of the 24 players on our roster, only four skate club [ice hockey]," said Lagera, a product of the Howard County hockey association and a club player at McGill University in Canada.

Many MSHL coaches believe the expense of playing ice hockey, or even ice skating, prevented many young athletes from picking up the sport. Lagera said the financial burden of ice hockey can include $800 per year for club hockey and another $300 to play for a high school team, with equipment costing as much as $500.

Once hooked on roller-blading, it is not just the boys who are being drawn to ice hockey.

MSHL commissioner Don Gensler said Landon High School coach Ned Hengerer is working on a girls high school league that would play hockey under no-check rules.

Hengerer is hoping to attract 60 to 80 girls to play hockey once a week, although the MSHL will maintain its longtime co-ed policy.

Glenelg coach Dave Lawson, whose parents were semiprofessional goalies in club hockey leagues in Canada, never imagined a land skate such as the roller-blade would become so popular.

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"In Canada you can ice skate year round, if not on outdoor ice, at a rink that was always close by to where you lived," said Lawson, who is searching for land in western Howard County to build an ice rink.

Roller-blading has helped spread the MSHL into new territory the last two years with teams in Frederick and Carroll counties joining the Central Conference.

Liberty Developmental team coach John Neiswender credits roller-blading with sparking interest in ice hockey in Carroll County and the building of the new Frederick ice rink.

"Now kids go out in the streets and get a feel for hockey," Neiswender said. "They even play the sport in gym class and have formed summer league roller-blading teams out here."

Because new players enter the MSHL with advanced skating skills, coaches can spend more time explaining the game rules and working on difficult plays.

"With roller-blading catching on all over it makes it much easier to teach the kids hockey today," Wilde Lake coach Dennis Gottesmann said.

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Despite the fact each Howard County high school has an established ice hockey club, the chances of these teams being awarded varsity status in the future is prohibitive, according to Howard County coordinator of athletics Don Disney, for several reasons.

"The idea of raising ice hockey to varsity status has come up, but given the fact we dropped gymnastics and golf as varsity sports less than two years ago, we cannot add another boys sport at this juncture," Disney said.

Disney added that the growth of the sport would be better served by not becoming a member of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

"If it became a varsity sport, hockey could kiss regional and out-of-state trips goodbye. They couldn't start practicing until Nov. 15 and would have to end the season in early March, while having the number of games they could play limited," said Disney, who also mentioned the high-cost factor of uniforms and equipment for ice hockey.


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