N.Va. a hotbed for youth hockey

By Keith Loria
For Fairfax County Times
Thursday, January 27, 2011

When 6-year-old Evan Gould takes the ice for his youth hockey games, he often emulates moves he has seen his favorite players on the Washington Capitals perform.

"I've been to a lot of games," Evan said. "I like to watch how they do it and then try that in my games. I play defense, and my job is to get the puck away. I love everything about the game."

A quick survey of his bedroom proves it. Posters of Caps players deck the walls and complement bobbleheads and other NHL memorabilia.

Evan's level of interest is what USA Hockey, the sport's national governing body, has hoped for.

"After two seasons of concentrated efforts to grow youth hockey participation in the 4- to 8-year-old age category, there has been a positive impact," said John Coleman, president of the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association, an affiliate of the Southeastern District of USA Hockey. "We have seen a major up-tick in our area, and more younger players are getting involved."

Youth hockey has seen a dramatic rise in numbers across the country, according to USA Hockey. The 4- to 8-year-old group has seen a 7 percent increase in membership since the 2007-08 season, including a 4.5 percent growth during the 2009-10 season. Those numbers are even larger in Northern Virginia, where averages have almost doubled those figures.

"It's exploded. We call it the Ovechkin factor," said Larry Roe, coaching director for the Reston Raiders Hockey Club. "The only reason it's not substantially bigger is the lack of available ice."

For the hockey novice, Alexander Ovechkin is one of the top scorers in the National Hockey League. Since he tallied 106 points during his rookie campaign of 2005-06, he has turned the Washington Capitals into winners.

Roe has been involved in hockey in the Northern Virginia area for nearly 20 years. In 1988, his eldest of three sons was playing in the Mount Vernon league; Roe thought the program should expand.

"I wanted to see the sport grow and grow the hockey club, but at the time, those in charge didn't think there was a lot of interest, so I left and started the Reston Raiders Hockey Club with some others," he said. "I thought hockey was much more popular than they gave it credit for, and as it turns out, I think we were right."

Within three years, the Reston Raiders had more than 600 kids playing in its league and were turning people away because of the lack of ice rinks in the area.

"Today, we have about 750 [to] 800 kids, and we are busting at the seams," Roe said.

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