Frederick and Washington counties are ice hockey havens for kids — whether they’re “ankle benders” who might play through high school and never again, or college-bound players out to make their mark.
The two counties are home to three hockey organizations: the Washington County Northstars, a high school-level hockey league team; Frederick Freeze, a travel hockey club with even more serious players; and another notch higher is Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), which has a Hagerstown-based ministry that draws talented hockey players from around the country — including Olympic hopefuls.
Fourteen-year-old Dominick DeAngelis has been playing the game since he was 7, bit by the bug after a family friend took him to a Washington Capitals Fan Fest, where he got to skate with some of the rookies.
“Our friend asked me if I’d ever taken Dominick ice skating and I said no,” said Mark DeAngelis, Dominick’s father.
“He told me the kid is skating around the rink like he’s done it all his life. I said, ‘Come on’ — ‘til I saw the pictures … Hockey was all Dominick could talk about from that day forward,” he said.
The DeAngelis’ ended up moving to Hagerstown, largely because the boy who started as a Pee Wee and moved his way up was spending so much time on the ice there. They’d been driving 140 miles round trip a few times a week from Front Royal, Virginia.
Part of the Monocacy Conference of Frederick and Washington County high school students, the Northstars team welcomes any Washington County student. But they are mainly A level players. Hockey rankings go from house level, where teams stay within their own association, to C, B, A, AA and AAA, with the last being the highest skill level of youth league hockey.
“Upper-tier players work on their skills on and off the ice seven days a week. They do not stop, though the more recreational players might practice and train a couple of times a week,” said Jamie Blackwood, involved with all three of the local programs.
Dominick, a wing for the Northstars, shoots pucks in his basement most days and in between he’s on the ice or doing dry land training, which could be running hills with a teammate on his back or lifting weights at the gym.
“Wings are the playmakers who mostly stay up a little higher and help work the puck down the ice,” he said.
“You feel like you’re on fire and unstoppable once you’re skating down the ice with a puck and have three on two or a breakaway. You just feel empowered, like I got this,” said the soon-to-be high school sophomore who scored seven goals in 14 games last season.
Frederick Freeze is a hockey club for 6- to 20-year-olds and has the only junior hockey team program in Maryland, with skill levels from B to AA.
These are mainly serious players, preparing for college hockey by age 17, and they travel all along the East Coast. Though there is an in-house program for those who don’t want to travel and who are not at the higher skill levels.
Last year the U14 team won the Chesapeake Bay Championship and won the season in the East Coast Junior Prospect Hockey League.
“These kids dedicate all of themselves to this. It’s a long season; it starts in the summer and does not end until April,” said Tommy Demers, hockey director of Frederick Freeze.
The players begin in June with strength training and start skating in August. Between the season and preparing in between seasons, they’re on the ice eight months of the year.
“Our focus is on skills acquisition and player development. It’s not about winning. But if we are doing our job, typically winning will follow,” said Demers.
Fellowship of Christian Athletes
The FCA, which draws coaches from the college arena and those who are former NCAA Division 1 players, has a basic skills camp and advanced programs for AA and AAA players. There’s an application process to get into the advanced camp.
“Our core mission is sports ministry, but we field competitive teams for tournaments, and those teams are of the highest players in the United States in those age groups. They are at the top of their game,” said Blackwood, a former college, high school, and club hockey coach himself.
FCA also hosts a goalie camp.
“The hockey world has called goalies freaks of nature. Anyone who wants to get a piece of rubber shot at them at 100 miles an hour, well they are different. And they have a specific skill set,” said Blackwood. The camp provides the specialized training they need.
FCA also incorporates huddle groups, which are optional Bible discussions. Eric Cosentino, a recent alumni of Northstars and FCA, will stay on at FCA to lead huddles and to help players build hockey skills.
Cosentino loves the camaraderie of the game.
“You want to be the best as a team, but you don’t have to be the best as an individual to enjoy it,” he said, adding that he was no star and not sounding particularly fazed by this.
“I skated beside a sophomore who has Canadian junior teams calling him to come play for them. He’s one of my best friends,” he said, adding that the Northstars had a running joke: “Everyone tried to get me a goal, but it never happened. It didn’t matter though because I got some assists. When you pass the puck you’re helping put points on the board for the team, and that’s cool.”
Competition is tough
There are only 250 Division 1 hockey scholarships, with prospects from around the county and overseas vying for those few spots. Students get in by their grades.
“College recruiters won’t even talk to them before they know their grade point average, class ranking, SAT scores, or ACT scores,” said Blackwood who collects report cards for high school hockey and club team players who need a minimum grade point average to play.
They not only become better students, but better people, he said, telling the story of one of his former top players who went on to play for the Portland Junior Pirates.
“Sean [Kreps] was normally a defense man, and I asked him to move into the offensive position of center. They are two totally different jobs on the ice, but the team needed that, so he sacrificed a personal statistic and personal success for the betterment of the team.” They all learn discipline from day to day.
“It’s done through the rules. It’s about working together and figuring out what team means and realizing no one is above the game,” said Blackwood.
Mark DeAngelis likes where his son is and has definite ideas about where he wants him to go from here.
“When I was his age I didn’t know what I wanted to do the next day; to see Dominick with that strong drive and direction is good.
“Is he going to play pro hockey? Probably not. Less than 5 percent ever make it to professional rinks. But I would like to see him play it through college and stay connected through coaching or however he does it. I want to encourage him to stay with this.”