Prep hockey growing in Washington area, but many top players still leave

By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chris Bond used to awaken to his mother's voice, eat a mom-made breakfast, back out of his Centreville garage and drive off to school to join classmates and ice hockey teammates he had known for years.

But as a senior in search of a college hockey scholarship, the All-Met defenseman from Bishop O'Connell felt compelled to give up his familiar lifestyle, like so many Washington hockey prospects before him.

After moving in with strangers in Kansas for this school year, Bond now wakes himself, makes his own breakfast, scrapes the Topeka frost off his silver 2004 Saturn Vue and passes horses and silos en route to Washburn Rural High School. There he pads through hallways with students he has little contact with outside of school.

After classes, Bond reports to the Topeka RoadRunners of the North American Hockey League, the only high school student on a team whose season stretches from September until as late as May.

As a teenage hockey refugee, Bond is following a path similar to many of the Washington area's top young talents, an exodus unique to their sport. Players for years have skated off to Northeast prep schools or Midwest junior hockey towns where the competition is faster and more physical and the spotlight greater.

With the growth of youth hockey in Washington in recent years, it is not as obvious of a decision as it used to be. But the road out is still the road most taken.

"I felt that leaving would give me more opportunity to pursue my dream of playing college hockey and give me more exposure to college coaches than playing in D.C. would," said Bond, 18, who is taking an online religion course so he can graduate from O'Connell this spring.

"We knew last year that he had reached the top of the food chain as far as hockey goes here in the local area," said Robert Bond, Chris's father, who along with wife Diane visits his son every month or so and watches the Topeka games online. "We had been preparing emotionally and mentally for him to go away. As hockey players and hockey parents, you get used to doing that because that's what you have to do."

Ten of 15 Washington-area players currently competing in Division I men's hockey left home before or during their high school careers to attend schools elsewhere.

Two of the three juniors on last year's All-Met team -- Bond and former Gonzaga goalkeeper Matt Tyler -- bypassed their senior years to take what they thought were the necessary steps to better secure their hockey futures.

That transition extends well beyond the rink, from the mundane -- as a public school student, Bond has to pick out clothes instead of slipping into the standard private school attire he had worn for years -- to the major.

"You go from somewhere you had good friends you've known for a while, kind of a big man at school, and now you just go into a brand-new school as a senior where no one knows you," said Tyler, who moved with his mother to the Chicago area, where he is playing for Team Illinois and attending Hinsdale Central High. "Everyone already has their foundation friends, so it's hard to put yourself into those groups when you have such a strict schedule you're keeping to."

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