“We went throughout the school just telling people: Don’t stop voting,” Stone Bridge player Patrick O’Connor said.
O’Connor’s mother, Patrice, hopes the attention will raise the team’s profile at school in a way that winning the past two league championships has not. Including ice time and uniform costs, each player’s family pays about $1,000 to compete, and not earning a varsity letter for their efforts is a sore point. Some area teams cannot use their school name, colors or mascot.
“I think since they saw how many people voted and how big it was, I don’t think they could ignore it,” said the elder O’Connor, who wore tan gloves that not only kept her hands warm by the ice but also provided padding for when she pounded the glass in celebration of Stone Bridge goals.
Stone Bridge and Loudoun County play in the Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League, which has 24 varsity teams this season. There also are 13 junior varsity teams and 13 teams in the middle school division, which is in its first year. Interest is high. The two-rink Ashburn facility is open 20 hours a day, seven days a week; there was a high school game there Friday that was scheduled in the 10:40 p.m. to midnight slot.
But those youth hockey participation numbers could go down, at least temporarily, in the youngest, or “mite,” age group in coming seasons, because of the lockout, Loudoun County Coach John Peterson said.
“Little kids who are trying to get into the game, [the NHL] might be their only opportunity to see hockey,” said Zienty, who lived in Chicago when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010. “It’s tough for them. They can’t see these guys flying around on the ice. That’s how I first saw it, was NHL games: ‘Wow, these guys are really moving. That’s pretty cool.’
“Kids this year, they can’t get that. So it might turn them off a little bit.”