Welcome to the Capital Beltway Hockey League -- the youth sports league where you should earn bonuses for frequent driver miles.

"It's definitely not like going down to field A or field B for the baseball game," says Mike McCormac, a coach and a former president of the Montgomery County Club.

But nobody is complaining. The hockey players in this league grit their teeth -- yes, they still have their teeth -- and continue to skate.

Exit 3 on the Capital Beltway.

It's Fairfax against Montgomery County in a bantam "B" game at the Tucker Road Ice Rink.

Tucker Road is an open-air rink, like most skating facilities on this circuit. In the cold night air, the warmest, if not the best, seat is in a parked car on the embankment between the road and the rink.

There's a ceiling overhead, about 20 feet in the air. It's supported by flying buttresses on the sides and Gothic arches underneath. The play, though, is far from classical.

With 4:09 left in the first period (CBHL periods are 12 minutes long), Pat McCormac scores for a 1-0 Montgomery lead. With 1:16 left in the period, McCormac converts on passes from Larry Bergenfield and Bobby Poulin. With 14 seconds left, Greg Sichy scores when Matt Rogers and Bergenfield set him up.

Bergenfield leads the team in the plus-minus category. He's been on the ice 32 more times for his team's goals than for opposing team's goals when both teams are at equal stength.

McCormac scores without an assist for a 4-0 lead. With the hat trick, his plus-minus count improves to +25.

Montgomery is one of the stronger teams in the 11-club league. Montgomery's 390 boys and girls play on five levels.

The Tucker Road game is bantam, ages 14 to 15. Above is midget, ages 16-17. Below is pee wee (12-13), squirt (10-11) and mite (9 and below).

"I once saw a 4-year old -- that's the youngest," says Ed Igoe, a league official for four years.

Igoe is no frustrated hockey player; for him, officiating is challenging and fun. He's well-versed in the rules that separate the CBHL from the NHL.

Fighting is a major penalty; players are ejected for the balance of the game and suspended for the next game. "The NHL could cut fighting out in two weeks with that rule," Igoe says.

Minor penalties are 1 1/2 minutes, majors are four minutes and misconducts are eight.

Other rules make this league safer than the NHL. Complete head gear -- helmet, mouthpiece, and a full cage -- is mandatory. No Rod Langways here.

Even the half-length plastic face masks, which have recently become fashionable in the NHL, are not approved.

Checking begins at the pee-wee level. To avoid high-speed, full-ice chases, "icing" is called as soon as the puck crosses the goal line. Two line passes are permitted.

Also, if an attacking player has the puck and his teammate is in the crease, a faceoff is called outside the zone. At the mite and squirt level, the backswing on slap shots can only be waist-high.

The biggest difference is the two-referee system. The two officials share responsibility for calling penalties and offsides. "It eliminates all the stuff that goes on behind a referee's back," says Randy Bird, who calls between 12 and 15 games a week and about 150 per year.

"We call the game a lot tighter," Bird says. "Mostly the stick penalties: hooking and high sticking. Mostly it's for the kids' protection."

Afterward, Bird is out of his skates quickly and off to his next game.

Exit 19 on the Capital Beltway.

Route 50 leads to three rinks -- Bowie, Easton and Benfield.

Benfield Pines ice rink, home of the Chesapeake Chiefs, though, is more accessible from the Baltimore Beltway.

Snow-covered roads make the going treacherous and the Montgomery team arrives slowly. Harmar Thompson, an eighth grader at Landon, and his teammates dress quickly.

First a supporter ($5.99), then a garter belt ($8.50) to hold up socks ($9.99). Next on are pants -- either Cooperalls (a girdle, $59.99-$79.99) with pads and long pants on top ($32.99-$41.99), or shorts with pads already inside ($18.99-$127.99). Then skates ($109.99-$179.99), shoulder pads ($22.99-$54.99), elbow pads ($8.99-$42.99), jersey ($12.95-$34.95), helmet with face mask ($45), and gloves ($21.99-$119.99).

Benfield has a small room for visitors. The outdoor rinks have warming houses. Like any locker room, these places aren't complete without adhesive tape. Thompson and his teammates apply it liberally.

Most players bring two or three sticks ($9.99-$33.99 for aluminum sticks) to a game. "In a 70-game schedule like we play, it's not unusual for a kid to go through two dozen sticks," says Dick Toomey, who coaches the Montgomery bantam "A."

You don't have to be an investment banker to add it up, but you might have to be one to afford it. It costs $495 to play on a Montgomery traveling team, which pays for team jerseys, socks, officials, pucks and liability insurance.

The lions share of the registration pays for ice time. An hour on the ice ranges from $85 at county-run rinks to $125 at the privately owned ice rinks.

"Most of the hockey nuts would love to own a rink (so it would be more affordable)," says team manager Pete Ottman, whose son Tom plays for Montgomery. "It's a fleeting time in your life. In four or five years, he's grown up and gone."

Montgomery plays a 16-game schedule in the CBHL. Like the teams from Howard, it also plays a 20-game schedule in the Delaware Valley Hockey League.

The Montgomery program is especially ambitious. It schedules about 40 additional games against teams in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Last weekend, the Montgomery Bantam "A's" drove to Rhode Island to play two prep schools and a team from Providence. Some of the players, like Tom Ottman, a 10th grader at Kennedy High School, were planning on combining the trip with prep school interviews and screenings by prep hockey coaches. Others who are older hope a college coach will see them.

On this night, Montgomery performs well enough to impress any coach. They play a tight zone defense, move the puck through mid ice with sharp passes, shoot on net and forecheck when they do not score.

Exit 31 on the Capital Beltway.

It's Capital Boys against Montgomery County at Wheaton Regional Park in a squirt "A" game.

Most of the shots on goal are weak, but when the puck hits the wooden boards, the aluminum roof on the outdoor rink is like an echo chamber.

On a still night you can hear the sounds across the park: pucks and whistles and parents exhorting their little players to "chase the puck" and "skate Jeffrey, skate Larry."

The voices that come from the ice are sopranos. John Teletchea of Camp Springs is 11. "As soon as he was 4, I put him on skates," says his father Bill. "I'm from New England. I think the majority of boys who play have parents who are from up north -- Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Buffalo."

"I think the success of the (Washington) Caps has drawn boys to the sport."

Regardless of how they are drawn to the sport, staying with it requires dedication. Toomey says his players are highly motivated. Tryouts are held in late September. The CBHL season ends in late March. In addition to games, teams practice twice a week.

Exit 33 on the Capital Beltway

It's Chevy Chase against Bowie in a bantam "B" game at Chevy Chase Country Club on Connecticut Avenue. The rink, which is outdoors and has no roof, sits over the 10th hole on the golf course -- it's a short par three -- not far from the paddle tennis courts.

There's a chain link fence around the top of the boards, and an announcer in the penalty box. Inexhaustive research revealed that this was the only facility with an announcer. The warming house, which overlooks the rink, looks like a ski chalet.

Exit 6 on the Capital Beltway

Take Little River Turnpike to the Fairfax Ice Rink. It's early Sunday morning and Howard is playing Fairfax in a squirt "A" game. Fairfax is a competitive program. Howard, one of the stronger programs, should win easily. There is a curious intangible, however. It's the coach of the Fairfax team.

He's Dick Patrick, president of the Washington Capitals. He's standing behind the bench, exhorting his troops in no special way. He looks like every other coach.

"I would imagine 90 percent of our club members don't even know who he is," said Tom Collins, president of the 209-member Fairfax club. "He's real low key about it."

Chris Patrick, Dick Patrick's son, takes his turn on the ice. Chris is the youngest of a long hockey line.

Dick Patrick's father Muzz Patrick played, coached and managed the New York Rangers for nine seasons. Dick's grandfather Lester Patrick, for whom the Patrick Division is named, was the Rangers' general manager for 20 seasons. Dick's uncle Lynn Patrick also played for the Rangers and was general manager of the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues. Dick's cousin Craig is currently the general manager of the Rangers.