Let's go, Caps!

Let's go, Caps!

Let's . . .

The National Hockey League season was supposed to start this week. But forget cheering for the Washington Capitals or any other NHL team. They might not be playing again for a long time.

The owners of the 30 NHL teams have locked the players out of the arenas and won't let them back on the ice until they agree to new work conditions. Some NHL stars, such as the Capitals' Jeff Halpern, have decided to play in Europe for now.

As usual, the owners and the players are arguing about money. The NHL owners say they are losing lots of it. Professional hockey is not as popular as pro football, baseball and basketball. Hockey doesn't do well on television in part because it's tough for viewers to see the puck. So NHL teams do not have the big TV contracts that make other sports teams lots of money.

But the NHL owners pay their stars almost as much as pro football, baseball and basketball players get. Owners want their players to agree to limit how much money they can make. The players want to keep things as they are.

While the disagreement continues, there won't be any hockey.

Actually, that's not true. There won't any NHL hockey, but kids will still play. Youth hockey is plenty popular in the Washington area. The Capital Beltway Hockey League has some 160 teams and nearly 2,500 players of all ages. And though there were no all-girls teams just three years ago, commissioner Doug Parks says the league now boasts a dozen such teams.

The CBHL claims some of the top local players, but there are even more hockey-crazy kids playing in recreational or "house" leagues at rinks all over Maryland and Virginia. Some kids start as young as 4 or 5, when they're called "Atoms" and play on half-rinks in instructional leagues. Then they move up through the Mites, Squirts, Pee-wees, Bantams and Midgets.

After all, why should the pros have all the fun? So if you think you might like hockey because of the flying puck, flashing sticks or just because you think the uniforms look cool, visit your closest skating rink and ask about its hockey club. As Bruce Melnick, the former president of the Montgomery Hockey Club, told me, "Wherever there's a rink in the Washington area, there is a hockey club." You can also log on to the CBHL's Web site, www.cbhl.org, to find the youth hockey club closest to you.

Maybe this is the year that you get out of the stands and on the ice. Maybe this is the year when the cheers will be . . .

Let's go, kids!

Let's go, kids!

Let's go, kids!

Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's Friday sports column and is the author of sports novels for kids.

No NHL? Well, youth hockey is plenty popular, as Benjamin Peters showed

last year

in Columbia.