RALEIGH, N.C., JULY 20 -- Pat Ferguson has long since learned to laugh at the jokes and the kidding he gets about his sport of roller hockey.

"When you tell them you play roller hockey, the first thing they say is, 'You mean ice hockey, right?' " Ferguson said this morning before his team, the North, beat the East, 2-0, in tonight's gold medal game at the U.S. Olympic Festival.

"Then you say, 'No, it's roller hockey.

"Not ice hockey, not Rollerball and not Roller Derby, either."

The similarities between roller hockey and the National Hockey League game played on ice skates are few. Suffice to say, in roller hockey you can be suspended a year for fighting and you can be tossed out of the game just for thinking too hard about it.

There is no checking and a guide issued by the U.S. Amateur Confederation of Rollerskating, the sport's governing body, states that "charging, tripping, high-sticking or fighting is definitely contrary to the spirit of the game."

Later, it says roller hockey "is, after all, a game of skill and civility."

Each team has five players -- two forwards, two defensemen and a goalie -- who can be substituted for at any time during the two 25-minute halves. The ball is made of hard plastic around cork and can leave quite a sting. Players use a stick shaped like the one used in field hockey except that, unlike a field hockey stick, both sides are flat.

Players wear shin guards, knee pads and gloves that vaguely resemble ice hockey gloves, but they stop at the wrist. Goalies, who use the same stick, wear long leg pads that go above the knee, longer and heavier gloves, chest protector and helmet with a cage mask.

The goals are 42 inches high and 62 inches wide, which means most goalies defend the goal in a squatting position. The front wheels on their skates are pushed back on the sole of the boot, which, along with a toe-stop, allows them to be on their toes.

With little body contact, the skating and stick-handling are the key and most of the goals are scored on fast-break situations.

When ice hockey players come to a quick stop, they shift their weight, and turn their skates so they are parallel to each other but perpendicular to the direction they were traveling. The result is flying ice chips. Roller hockey players do the same maneuver, but with no ice, nothing flies and the sound resembles chalk on a chalkboard.

As in basketball, once a team gains possession in its zone, it must move the ball over the midfloor stripe in 10 seconds. Exception: if the other team presses, that eliminates the time stricture.

For penalties, the nonskating referee uses a card system similar to soccer's: a yellow card for the first warning; a blue card meaning the offender must serve a time penalty (usually two minutes), and a red card meaning expulsion from the game, forcing the violator's team to play a man short the rest of the game.

The Ferguson family of Cumberland, Md., has almost enough players to play a game itself. All three of Ralph and Virginia Ferguson's sons are playing in the Festival. Pat and Gene Ferguson scored the North goals in tonight's championship victory, and Alan played for the East. For the rest of the year, they play for the Cumberland Raiders, a team that has won six national championships since 1973.

Pat and Gene Ferguson will be part of the U.S. team in the Pan American Games. But Pat is also involved in the sport as the coach of the junior elite roller hockey program, which was funded in part with $50,000 received from the U.S. Olympic Foundation.

"The idea is to develop a base for tryouts for the team to play in Barcelona," said Thom Beal, information director for the USACRS. The sport will be played on a demonstration basis in the 1994 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. At the world championships in 1986, Italy won the title, followed by Spain, Portugal, Argentina and the United States.

The Ferguson family got started in the sport when Ralph, now deceased, bought what is now called the Moonglo Skating Rink in Cumberland in the late 1950s and started the team in 1961. His five children have been skating most of their lives. When he played games on the road, he often carted his sons along.

"Raised by our family in a skating rink, the interest kind of grows on you," said Pat, 32, who is a school bus driver besides helping his mother run the rink.

She doesn't skate, though. "She likes it," said Alan, 26. "She just doesn't like to put the wheels under her feet."

Alan was laid off from the factory where he worked and now helps out at the rink. Gene, 28, delivers ice for a Cumberland company. The family home is right behind the rink, and the children who have moved out are still in the area.

"I could be there in five minutes if there was trouble," said Pat Ferguson.

Is there ever trouble?

"Not usually," he said.

What has been sometimes troublesome is finding places to play.

"Rinks have to make money," Pat Ferguson said. "In the winter, rinks are open every night because it's busy. So we'd have to practice from 10 to midnight. When you have to get up at 6 to go to work, that's tough."

The size of most rinks precludes a large number of spectators.

"Clubs play in local skating rinks and the maximum number of people who could watch is about a hundred and they would have to stand," Pat Ferguson said. "If we had a place like this {Dorton Arena}, people would take notice. The only place to do that in Cumberland is the high school and they're scared to death of us. They say it would hurt the floor {the game is played on a wood floor}, but all you have to do is buff it.

"But they hear hockey and they think, 'Oh, hockey -- vicious and dangerous.' They don't understand what roller hockey is."