The “co-op” teams of the Maryland Student Hockey League tend to be a hodgepodge of students from high schools without an official club team or enough players to field a “pure” squad. But few take from as many different schools as the current leader in the Montgomery 1A division, the D.C. Stars.
The club, which is in its 11th year, draws from nine different public and private high schools around the District. The squad has no feeder program or consistent way to attract players. It garners interest through word-of-mouth and by encouraging players to spread the word at their individual schools.
“We’ve got players from different backgrounds, different parts of the city, coming together with the common goal of winning hockey games and learning the sport,” said second-year Coach Clyde Thomas.
Eligible students can live in Maryland or Virginia but attend school in D.C., which adds even more geographical variety to the roster.
There’s Anacostia’s Johnathon Young, who grew up near the Fort Dupont Ice Arena and took advantage of the only public indoor ice rink in the District.
There’s competitive speedskater Benjamin Oh, who lives in Burtonsville and attends St. Anslem’s Abbey. He will miss a game toward the end of January for the U.S Junior Short Track Championships in Milwaukee.
Maret, Sidwell Friends, Georgetown Day, Edmund Burke and the British International School are all represented.
“I don’t think drawing from so many different schools hurts us,” captain and Maret senior Nick Rizik said. “It’s interesting to see that a lot of the players are able to come together, to abandon usual school rivalries to play on same team and to work for a common goal.”
The Stars’ home rink is Fort Dupont — the birthplace of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, the oldest minority hockey program in the country. Neal Henderson started the program in 1978 and has led generations of District hockey players through his program. Thomas, a Wilson graduate, got his start with Henderson and went on to play club hockey at Clemson.
“Hockey would not be a sport for a lot of young African Americans without him,” Thomas said. “I’m truly blessed to know him and he’s been one of the best mentors in my life. He’s brought the sport to this area and as our little-known secret down in Southeast.”
The D.C Stars and the Fort Dupont Cannons have one crossover player this season in Wilson senior Rakeem Smith. Smith is on the ice all of Monday evening in back-to-back practices for both squads.
“I just have passion for the sport — practice, scrimmage, game — I want to be there, I just want to play,” Smith said.
It’s the common desire to be on the ice that allows the Stars to learn to play with each other quickly, and successfully, Oh said.
“When we get to the rink, really school doesn’t matter. Everything else is forgotten execept for playing hockey and being with our teammates,” Oh said. He’s on the ice five days a week for speedskating and has his quickest turnaround on Friday nights, when he goes to speedskating directly after the Stars game.
The construction of the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy nearby and the potential addition of a rink to the arena are poised to bring more athletic opportunity to the neighborhood and increased support for the District’s youth hockey players.
The Stars have seen significant growth in interest and participation, even in Rizik’s time with the squad. This is the largest roster in his four years, he said, and the Stars’ 7-2 record reflects the depth of the bench and the team’s ability to find chemistry despite infrequent practices and the lack of a common school.
“One of the great advantages is just actual pride in the city,” Thomas said. “It’s a unifying force. And knowing that there are limitations — just having once a week practice and playing teams that do have more practices — we know it’s a disadvantage and a challenge, but we also maximize our opportunities to face that challenge.”
DeMatha jumped into the rankings last week with a win against Mt. St. Joseph and a tie against Spalding — then pulled in one win and two ties in the weeks since. The draws pulled down the right side of the Stags’ record a bit, but were helpful in getting the team used to fighting through tight contests.
“We know we’re going to be in a lot of close games, but the more we play in them, the better it will be going forward,” Coach Tony MacAulay said.
MacAulay has seen a significant improvement in how his players work without the puck and their ability to shut off areas of the ice for the other team.
“There was a lot more standing around, and probably not working as hard as what we thought we were,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest difference with us, to learn that aspect of the game.”
The turning point came in the second week of December after a win against Bullis and a close loss to Gonzaga, MacAulay said. The Stags play Calvert Hall and St. Alban’s in back-to-back games next week.
Gonzaga extended its win streak with a 9-0 win against Bullis. . . Stone Bridge took a 10-0 win against Forest Park/Hylton. . . DeMatha held Landon to a 2-2 draw. . . Atholton proved its Howard division dominance with a 9-2 win against second-place Glenelg. . . Wootton has allowed just five goals in four games in 2014.
1. Gonzaga (18-0-1) LW: 1
2. Stone Bridge (8-0) LW: 2
3. Landon (5-1-1) LW: 3
4. Atholton (10-0) LW: 4
5. Wootton (10-1) LW: 5
6. Briar Woods (5-1) LW: 6
7. Langley (5-1-1) LW: 7
8. Spalding (5-2-2) LW: 8
9. Churchill (9-2-1) LW: 9
10. DeMatha (9-16-3) LW: 10
Records through Tuesday.