Nine-year-old Josh Lazarus hopes that someday he might be a star in the National Hockey League.
His parents and coaches feel Josh possesses exceptional hockey skills and talent, but they are concerned about the lack of competition in the Washington metropolitan area to develop young players such as Josh and his Washington American teammates.
The Americans play AA hockey, a more advanced level of play, and because they are the only AA team between Washington and Baltimore, the Americans must travel north, as far as Quebec, to play their 60- to 70-game schedule between October and March.
His father Ron and his mother Nadine are both attorneys who moved from St. Louis to Burke, Va., in 1970. Though Ron never played hockey, he started taking Josh to the Washington Capitals' games when Josh was 6 months old. "He would just sit there and watch the game," said Ron, 37. "Then he just wanted to play."
Josh, all of 4 feet 4, 61 pounds, started playing hockey at Fairfax at age 4. After scoring 142 goals and 68 assists in 50 games with the Fairfax A team last year, he joined the Americans' squirt (age 9-10) team. Because half of the Americans' games are played in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Josh must spend about 10 weekends on the road.
"The travel is easy for me because we usually fly," said Josh, a fourth-grader at White Oaks Elementary School.
"I don't know how it is for most of the people. We have some friends that almost always drive, and I don't think they really enjoy it. When we go to different states, we get to see the highlights of that state. When we went to Buffalo, we saw Niagara Falls."
"I like it," said Ron, about the traveling. "It's a chance for just the two of us to be there and not be bothered by work or things at home. Ron travels with Josh all the time. It's not bad. Whenever we've gone somewhere, we've done it as a family. When we were in Boston, we went to see the Plymouth Rock. We go sightseeing. It's more than just a hockey tournament."
"We travel together a lot," said Nadine, 36. " Josh's 6-year-old sister Tammy and I go on about half the trips. It's fun."
Nadine sets her work schedule to Josh's hockey schedule, and sometimes they carpool with four other players. "I take the early mornings," Ron said. "She Nadine takes the evenings.
"Whether we're in town or out of town, Josh plays 1 1/4-1 1/2 hours Monday night in Crofton and Wednesday night in Oxon Hill or in the District. If we go out of town, we will have a game Saturday around noon and usually two games on Sunday. Sometimes we'll have two games Saturday and two Sunday. If we're in town, we'll have a game at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m."
Ron said that other parents think they are crazy for all the traveling and the early practices, but Nadine said that "nonhockey parents don't understand. Hockey parents are a different breed of people. Last year, when he was on the Fairfax team, they had really early sessions. He and Ron would get up at 4:30 in the morning the Americans practice no earlier than 7:30 a.m. . It's hard for someone who doesn't love the sport to understand that.
"I never have problems getting him up for practice, but for school he has problems," Nadine smiles. "But not for hockey. He jumps right out of bed."
The busy schedule does not seem to interfere with Josh's school work. "He realizes that he doesn't have a lot of time to do his homework at home," Nadine said. "He does it at school. The teachers give them a little bit of time to do their homework."
"Every once in a while I'll get about a C," said Josh, who plays center and left wing. "The rest I'll get A's and B's. I do my work at school because I usually don't get homework. For some reason, I'm a lot quicker than most of the kids in my class . . . My classmates think it's really neat that I get to go to so many places."
And what has Ron planned for Josh's future? "If he's still playing in the AA and he's doing pretty good, it goes without saying that he'll have to go north for private school."