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The Baltimore Sun

The game isn't over for Lisa and Gordon Ruohoniemi when they get off the ice after playing for Centennial High School's club hockey team. In fact, the time after games is when being brother and sister has its biggest advantages.

"They definitely talk about the game when they come home from the rink. They go over parts of the game and talk about how to do them better the next time," said their father, Mike Ruohoniemi.

For Lisa, a senior defenseman in her fourth year on the team, having her brother on the squad makes it easier to correct mistakes. "We are able to criticize each other more because we know our tendencies," she said.

It was only natural for Lisa and Gordon, a sophomore forward, to pick up hockey. Their parents, Mike and Hedy Ruohoniemi, were born in Canada and were exposed to the sport growing up.

"I've been playing off and on all my life, so I used to take them out to the rink to see if they enjoyed it as well. Now, we're all wrapped up around it," said the father, who starting playing hockey at age 5.

Added the mother: "Our kids were 2 years old when they were out on ice skates, learning how to skate."

Lisa and Gordon began playing recreational and club hockey in the Columbia-based Howard Huskies program. In addition to playing on Centennial's team, the Ellicott City residents also play on club teams - Lisa with the Montgomery Blue Devils and Gordon with the Tri-City Eagles.

Gordon believes that his club experience gives him an advantage in the high school league.

"Playing club taught me how to play with other players, how to read situations, about teamwork, and about the fun aspects of playing hockey," he said.

Lisa agreed: "Playing club, I worked on basic skills and am more focused on team play. It was a way to understand the game."

The county's high school program "takes almost anyone who wants to play, so we have some kids ... who just put on skates for the first time," said Vicki Embrey, the Howard County commissioner.

In the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League, Howard County high school teams make up two divisions - Howard A and Howard AA. Every school in the county has a team, except for Reservoir and Hammond, which are merged into one team. Centennial is in the Howard A division, a group of teams with more experienced players, according to Embrey.

Although the teams are affiliated with their high schools, hockey is not a varsity sport in Howard County. Instead, hockey teams are "recognized as community organizations," Embrey said, that have to follow certain guidelines to remain affiliated with the schools.

"The teams can have school-based meetings, they can use the school mascot and colors with a disclaimer, but they can't use 'high school' in their names," said Mike Williams, Howard County's coordinator of athletics.

Williams explained why hockey is not a school-sponsored sport. "Cost, liability, you have to have [teams] for both girls and boys, there are no postseason opportunities. There are lots of reasons," he said.

Still, Lisa and Gordon make their presence felt on the ice - varsity sport or not.

It is Lisa's experience on defense that makes her such a valuable player on the team, said Centennial coach Eric Mauser.

"She makes a huge difference. She's my only defenseman that has played all four years on defense ... and in a year that we are lacking defense, she is someone who has experience," he said.

Her father said that he has noticed two things that make his daughter a strong defender.

"She's a smooth skater and a strong skater, so she can cover a lot of ice with her wheels. She's also very responsible. While some players will go for that big hit, Lisa doesn't do that, she minds her lanes to the net."

Mauser said Gordon is one of the smartest players that he's coached, and that his skills make him that much better a player, he said.

Gordon describes his role as someone who tries to cause chaos and win every battle for the puck.

In Centennial's 4-1-1 start, Gordon has recorded five assists, and Lisa has two.

Mauser said he thinks that Lisa and Gordon have another quality that defines them as hockey players.

"They are the definition of team players," he said. "They lead by example and represent how to act, on and off the ice."

Lisa hopes to attend the University of Virginia or the University of Western Ontario next fall and play club hockey. Meanwhile, their younger brother, David, is scheduled to attend Centennial next fall and join Gordon on the hockey team.

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