Steve Cowen's primary goal as the coach of the Loudoun Lightning under-14 travel in-line hockey team is to provide his players with a good background to the fast-growing sport. But Loudoun takes its game seriously -- the team will be playing hard when it takes the floor Saturday in the Invitational Game Series tournament.
"All the kids are competitive to begin with, so they want to win," said Cowen, whose team will be one of 24 competing at Fredericksburg's Slapshotz Arena. "It's a pretty big steppingstone for the program to go to a regional tournament and see how they compete."
The tournament is the culmination of the spring IGS season. The IGS, which is in its third season, has six member clubs: Loudoun Roller Hockey, Ashburn Inline Hockey, Fairfax, Centreville (Washington Sports Club), Prince William Hockey Club and Fredericksburg (Slapshotz). Players compete in four age groups: 10-and-under, 12-and-under, 14-and-under, and 17-and-under.
Each team plays the other five teams in its age group twice (once at home, and once on the road) during the regular season, and the teams are seeded for the one-day tournament based on their regular season finish. In the 17-and-under age group, Ashburn is the top seed, and Loudoun is sixth; in 14-and-under, Loudoun is fourth and Ashburn is sixth; in 12-and-under, Loudoun is second and Ashburn is sixth; and in 10-and-under, Ashburn is second and Loudoun is fifth.
"We've already played every team in the tournament, but what's amazing and unique about the tournament is that Fredericksburg has by far the best facility," Cowen said. "They have a sport court surface, which means we can play with a puck. At most of the other facilities, we have to play with a ball. It's great for the kids to get a chance to play with a puck because it's a much faster game."
The IGS, which has grown to include almost 400 players, was designed to promote the development of in-line hockey and runs in conjunction with its member clubs' house leagues.
"It's mandatory that the travel players [who compete in the IGS] also must participate in their house leagues," said Marcia Foster, the league administrator for Loudoun Roller Hockey and a co-chair of the IGS. "The players have to promote and support in-line as a whole. Our philosophy as a league is to promote the sport."