The signs of the Briar Woods-Stone Bridge rivalry remained around Ashburn Ice House long after the final buzzer sounded and the players retreated to the locker room to blast Mac Miller and begin their winter vacations.
Abandoned posters sat in the bleachers, and orange plastic flowers from Briar Woods’s leis formed a trail to the lobby where the nearly 1,000-strong crowd waited to mingle with players or catch a ride home.
The crowd hadn’t spent a minute on the ice in No. 4 Stone Bridge’s 6-2 victory, but many were just as tired as the athletes. Students began filing into the arena two hours before the game’s 9:10 p.m. puck drop. Those who arrived too late to snag seats lined up shoulder-to-shoulder two or three rows deep around the glass.
They had been standing, screaming and jumping for almost four hours. The fans traded chants of “SB Hockey” and “B. Woods Hock” for an hour leading up to the introduction of the teams.
It was a crowd befitting the biggest game of the regular season but one more regularly seen at a Friday night basketball or football game.
No. 2 Briar Woods knocked the Bulldogs out of playoffs last year en route to its first Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League championship. The Bulldogs beat Briar Woods in the 2012 final and also won the 2011 title.
Little more than four miles of Belmont Ridge Road pavement separate the neighboring schools, and many of the players who faced off on Friday play together for the Ashburn Xtreme club team.
Lauren Lefebvre and Carrie Leon graduated from Briar Woods last year. An appearance at this game, even as alumnae, was a must.
“This is a huge deal,” Leon said.
“When this rivalry first started getting good, people were leaving playoff football games to come to this game,” Lefebvre added. “The crowd is more fun. People can get crazy here.”
The smaller, louder venue and the potential for on-ice scraps fuels the rowdy student section. Ice hockey is not a sanctioned varsity sport at Virginia public high schools, which explains the absence of administration to keep students in line or reprimand the overzealous fan who hijacked the public address system to announce that “anyone’s who’s not a senior better get out of here.”
“You get out there on the ice and you can’t even hear yourself think,” Falcons captain Justin Plumhoff said.
Bright orange leis, neon shutter shades and pom-poms added to the Briar Woods “orange-out.” The Stone Bridge seniors held court in the front row with a large black bone poster that was raised along with a chant of “You got boned!” for every Bulldogs goal.
Security scattered along the center aisle that marked the line where Bulldogs blue and white gave way to the Falcons’ bright orange to prevent the trash talk from turning into physical fights, which has happened during past games. They let the students stand and shout for the first period or so but asked them to stay seated once the noise got to be too much.
“This is one of a kind,” Stone Bridge junior Mason Newcombe said. “It’s a rivalry you don’t get every day. The atmosphere is too big.”
The volume of the Bulldogs fan base is worth three goals a game according to assistant coach Gary Pouliot. As spirited as the student section was, it was early penalties that made the difference on Friday. Cross-checking and boarding penalties kept junior Zach Regester and Plumhoff in the box for 12 minutes in the first period, during which the Bulldogs took a 4-0 lead.
Falcons goalie Elliot Shelton faced 45 shots from the young, feisty Stone Bridge offense. Freshman Ryan Leibold scored two first-period goals, and sophomore Cade Groton added a pair.
“I don’t think we expected this score,” Groton said. “We were just motivated from last year’s loss going in. They took away our state title, and we came in more determined.”
The two teams likely will meet again in the playoffs. Until then, the Bulldogs players won’t let their club teammates from Briar Woods forget Friday’s result.
“You’d walk into practice, and they wouldn’t even have to say anything. They’d just give you this look,” Regester said. “It’s a friendly type of brag, but they’d say, ‘The next time we play, now we know who’s going to win.’ ”