On one side of the rink, a goaltender juggles three pucks. Elsewhere on the ice, two defensemen are doin push-ups as punishment for allowing a forward to skate by them. High overhead, a seaplane hangs from the rafters.
Clearly, this is no orginary hockey practice. But Navy isn't a typical hockey team.
The Midshipmen have the only organized intercollegiate hockey program in the area, but that only begins to describe their uniqueness.
Although only a club team with no funds for recruiting, the Mids are among the winningest teams anywhere. Asked the last time his team lost, Coach Steve Gordon is embarrassed to reply that he can't remember. It has been more than a year.
The loss came against Penn State, tarnishing an otherwise perfect 17-game season. This year, the Mids take a 7-0 record, including a win over Hawthorne, the nation's third-ranked NCAA Division III team, into this weekend's Crab Pot Tournament, Navy hockey's biggest event of the year.
Penn State faces Ramapo, N.J., in the tournament opener at Navy's Dahlgren Hall Saturday at noon, followed by Navy versus West Chester State at 3 p.m. The two losers play Sunday at noon and the winners meet at 3 p.m. for the championship.
Navy does not charge admission to its hockey games, perhaps because Dahlgren has almost no seating. Nevertheless, crowds in excess of 2,000 are expected to attend the Crab Pot, standing five and six deep on the balcony. The arena itself is so massive that the Navy seaplane inside takes on the appearance of a mobile.
One of the most unusual aspects of all about Navy, in today's violent world of hockey, is that the Mids do not fight. Period. By college rules, fighting brings an ejection and a one-game suspension. By Gordon's edict, two fights get a player kicked off the team. Consequently, the Mids haven't had a fight in two years.
Hockey success at Navy is a relatively recent phenomenon, starting with Gordon's arrival at the academy five years ago. An ex-goaltender from Northeastern University in Boston, Gordon inherited a rag-tag Navy team in 1977.After a 7-9-2 transition year, the Mids jumped to 13-3-2 in 1978 and 12-5-1 in 1979. Since then, there has been only the loss to Penn State. a
Not surprisingly, Gordon is having the time of his coaching life.
"I get to coach very good kids, there's no pressure and we have a great facility," he said. "It's really an ideal situation for someone like me who can't play anymore."
Gordon was not always so enamored with coaching. After moving from Boston to Maryland in 1972, he endured some painful years coaching youth hockey.
"That was awful," he said, wincing at the very thought.
It wasn't the youngsters that disturbed the coach so much. It never is.
"The parents drove me up the wall," Gordon complained. "They were not only crazy, but they didn't know anything about hockey. They would ask me, 'Why did my son's team lose, 15-2?' I told them, 'Because the kids can't skate from one end of the rink to the other.'"
About the time Gordon reached the end of his tolerance, Navy finished building its rink and was looking for a part-time volunteer coach.Gordon, a field advisor for a large construction company, applied and got the job.
"When I came to Navy, we agreed that I would stay out of the military part and the officer representative (an academy administrative official) would stay out of the hockey part," Gordon said. "It's worked well ever since."
Gordon now has a coach's dream -- working with players who, as Naval Academy students, generally are highly motivated, intelligent and disciplined. aThe admission process at Navy is competitive; last year there were 11,000 applications for 1,300 openings.
"They're probably one of the smartest hockey teams around," Gordon said of the Mids. "How many other hockey players can fly an F-15 fighter plane or command a nuclear submarine?"
Navy's players come from diverse backgrounds -- from senior goalie Andy Dickinson, who had played in just 10 organized games before coming to Navy, to junior wing John Knight, who has played 60 games a year since he was 5.
Dickinson, in fine goalie tradition, is the free spirit of the team. At any given practice, he can be seen putting on a one-man circus. He might appear in a derby and begin juggling pucks. He also has been known to balance a stick on his nose for amusement.
"I just like to be different," explained Dickinson, from O'Fallon, Ill. "The guys all think I'm crazy, but I'm just out here to have a good time."
Asked how he became a goaltender, hockey's version of the guy at the wrong end of the firing squad, Dickinson said, "When I went to games, I always felt sorry for the goalie. He was the underdog, so I always rooted for him."
Knight's priorities were clear, though, when he applied to Navy.
"I wanted to fly," said the Ithaca, N.Y., resident, "and I figured this was my best chance. Hockey was not that devleoped when I came here, but I figured things would work out for the best because Navy was building up the program."
Knight probably had no idea how prophetic that would be.