For most hockey players in the region, late ice times are a right of passage. But for the Montgomery Cheetahs, one of three Special Hockey teams in the area, it’s the early morning ice slots that are most important.

Starting at 6:45 on Saturday mornings at the Cabin John Ice Rink, Cheetahs players and their mentors, hockey players from the local public and private schools, take to the ice to focus on a wide range of skills, including skating, passing, stickhandling and shooting.

The Cheetahs were founded in 2006 as a bar mitzvah project by twins Corey and Jake Berk, and through a word-of-mouth campaign they were able to register the first eight skaters. That number has grown to 65 skaters, male and female, ages 6 to 27.

Sean Twombly, who became executive director of the Cheetahs in 2008, has seen the impact that the relationship between mentors and players has had on his son. “Cheetah athletes love to go to high school hockey games on Friday nights where they can see their mentors play," he said. “I remember Aidan Neustadtl and Alex Gandolfo from Whitman [two of the longest-serving mentors] bringing my son into the locker room after a state semifinal game years ago.”

For the mentors, the experience counts for more than the community service hours required by many area high schools.

“I mostly enjoy sharing my love and knowledge of the game with these amazing players that also love stepping on the ice,” said Jared Katon, a junior at Quince Orchard. “I take away as much as I can every single Saturday morning. Whether it’s patience with the players or patience with myself from getting up early after being at the rink till 12 a.m. the night before, I love being there with the players.”

Here are this week’s area high school hockey rankings:

1: DeMatha (22-7-2) Last ranked: 1

The Stags rattled off four wins in five games at the PA Hockey Foundation event in South Bend, Ind., and then returned home to pick up another victory against Bullis on Feb. 6. They will play Gonzaga in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinals Wednesday night.

2: Georgetown Prep (13-3-1) LR: 2

The Little Hoyas took down St. John’s in their regular season finale and snagged a victory against St. Albans in the Interstate Athletic Conference semifinals. They will play Landon for the IAC crown Thursday.

3: Chantilly (9-1) LR: 3

The Chargers thumped Centreville/Fairfax, 11-1, in their last regular season game Friday, earning a first-round bye in the Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League playoffs.

4: St. John’s (15-5-1) LR: 4

The Cadets beat O’Connell, 2-1, in a WCAC semifinal Tuesday and are awaiting the winner of Wednesday’s game between DeMatha and Gonzaga.

5: Marriotts Ridge (14-2-1) LR: 5

The Mustangs beat Glenelg in an overtime thriller last week, scoring with 12.6 seconds left in regulation then sealing the deal on a five-on-three power play to claim the Serio Cup awarded to the Howard County champion.

6: T.C. Williams (8-2) LR: 6

After nearly a month off, the Titans finished their regular season against W.T. Woodson with a 4-3 win Friday. They have earned the top seed and a bye in the first round of the Capital Scholastic Hockey League playoffs.

7: Gonzaga (12-7-1) LR: 8

After a loss against Spalding on Monday in their regular season finale, the Eagles face a formidable task against No. 1 DeMatha in the WCAC semifinals.

8: O’Connell (8-7-4) LR: 7

The Knights bowed out of the WCAC playoffs with a semifinal loss against St. John’s. The Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League playoffs await.

9: Wootton (12-4-1) LR: NR

The Patriots claimed the top seed in the Montgomery County bracket of the Maryland Student Hockey League playoffs with a 8-3 victory over Churchill on Friday.

10: Churchill (12-7-2) LR: 9

The Bulldogs dropped their regular season finale to Wootton, leaving them with the second seed in the MSHL’s Montgomery County bracket.

Dropped out: Washington-Lee

On the bubble: Yorktown, Washington-Lee, Severna Park