Ice Age

  • David Pan<br>Enterprise sports editor
  • Thursday, February 28, 2008 9:31am

The area’s top hockey players have a new league to showcase their talents.

The Western Washington High School Hockey League made its debut last month with 11 teams throughout the Puget Sound region, including squads based out of the Edmonds, Everett and Shoreline school districts.

The regular season runs through the end of this month and a state tournament with teams based out of the Tri-Cities region is tentatively scheduled for June.

The league is not an officially-sanctioned WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) sport, though officials plan to work towards that goal in the future.

The primary motivation of starting up the league was to enable players to garner some recognition from their peers.

“These kids are great athletes,” said league commissioner Bill Greene. “They practice twice a week. They play a 60-game schedule during the year. We really did it for the peer recognition that they’re lacking at their high schools. They’re as good or better athletes than any other high school sport … they never really get to play in front of their peers.”

The league is sponsored through Sno-King Amateur Hockey with the cooperation of other associations in the area.

The process of starting the league began last fall when organizers met with school officials. Certain requirements, such as having a minimum number of players from one school, had to be met before a team was chartered.

The schools did not assume any financial burden from an insurance or financial perspective. The parents are picking up the entire tab.

“Hockey parents are used to writing checks,” said Greene, who added that many teams are having fund-raisers and offering scholarships to those in need.

Though the league is not officially-sanctioned, players must adhere to the same requirements as other high school athletes, such as the no-pass, no-play policy.

“We’re trying to do everything by the WIAA rules,” Greene said. “We know we’re not a sanctioned sport .. we want to demonstrate that we have no problem complying with those rules and we understand why they have those rules and we agree with the restrictions.”

The months of April and May were the ideal time to schedule games since the regular season for the other leagues wraps up in March and early April.

Games are played Friday nights at one of four ice rinks in the area, including the newly renovated Lynnwood Ice Center and the Kingsgate Ice Arena in Kirkland.

“Part of the beauty of the concept is that the kids are all done,” Greene said. “We’re not competing with their regular teams. They’re all done for the year and also economically it makes sense for the rinks because April and May is traditionally a down time for them renting ice.”

Some teams have run into some scheduling challenges with spring break and graduation activities.

Teams practice once a week and play once a week, so the time commitment isn’t huge. But it’s still enough for players to keep their skills sharp, Greene said.

Brandon Sperry, a member of the Jackson/Kamiak team, was excited to learn that a new high school hockey league was being formed. The Jackson junior played for the Washington Totems, a midget AAA team that plays at the highest level in the state.

“The season is over and you’re waiting for tryouts,” Sperry said. “There’s like a month where you’ve got nothing going on. Now we can get on the ice twice a week.”

Kyle Wetstein of the Meadowdale/Mountlake Terrace team was somewhat skeptical when he first heard about the league. The Meadowdale sophomore wasn’t sure there were that many players where he lived. As it turned out, Meadowdale had enough numbers to support a team even without players from Mountlake Terrace.

Most of the teams draw from two or more schools in order to have as many players participate as possible.

Once practices started, Wetstein notice the varying skill among his teammates. Some were at a high level, while others were not as skilled.

“I thought it would be iffy at first because we had lots of level differences … but we came together as a team,” Wetstein said.

Edmonds-Woodway coach Wes Noon relished the notion of coaching players with varying skill levels.

Noon is fortunate to have several higher caliber players, but he also has some relative newcomers to the sport.

“I love a challenge. That’s one of the reasons why I’m happy to be a part of this,” Noon said. “It’s interesting to see the younger players … being instructed and taught by the older players, by the ones that have been playing longer or at a higher level.”

Edmonds-Woodway sophomore Taylor Perkins enjoys working with his teammates.

“The more skilled players just help out the less skilled players,” he said. “(We) help them out in practice and get their confidence up.”

Jackson/Kamiak coach David Conyers also is aware of the skill differences among his players.

“We try to mix up the player talent and integrate them from top to bottom in every single line we put out there, so that we have some evenness going out,” he said.

For instance, a less skilled forward might be paired with a higher skilled forward.

“Not everybody knows how to play the game right yet, but that’s part of it,” said Shorewood sophomore Justin Ross.

The games have been competitive for the most part with only a handful of one-sided results. Jackson/Kamiak appeared to be headed for such a result against Bothell in an April 25 game.

Jackson/Kamiak trailed 5-0 entering the third period but then rallied for five unanswered goals to tie the score.

“I’m very pleased to see the level of competition and parity in this kind of entity,” Conyers said. “That’s always an unknown. You can have blowouts one way or another. That really hasn’t happened too much.”

The new hockey league rekindled some interest among a few players that had given up the sport for whatever reason.

“A lot of the boys that maybe haven’t played for three or four years, they decided to come back and play hockey,” Greene said.

A team based out of Tahoma High School even has a couple of individuals who have never played hockey before, he added.

While most of the players are male, a number of females also are playing in the league.

Meadowdale sophomore Kristi Evans has spent a good amount of her 12 years of experience on boys teams, though the last two years she has been playing up in Canada.

“You can hit with the guys,” Evans said. “It’s a lot more fun to play with the guys.”

The Meadowdale/Mountlake Terrace team seemed to click from the beginning, according to Evans.

“Everyone has been very good to everyone,” she said. “We have a really good atmosphere. We just really communicate well.”

Hockey is the kind of sport where boys and girls can play together, Noon said.

“Even though it’s a contact sport, they (girls) are able to hang with the guys in their age level,” he said. “It’s how you play the game. There are different ways. You can be really, really physical or you can play a finesse game. I’ve always taught the finesse game because I like the game of hockey.”

The opportunity to be teammates with individuals that he might not normally play with is another perk of the league, according Shorecrest sophomore Jordan McIntosh, a member of the Shoreline team.

“It’s fun meeting new people and playing with new people,” he said.

Some of the other members of the Shoreline team were a little surprised at the level of talent in the league.

“A lot of guys on my team haven’t played at this high of a level,” McIntosh said. “We’re getting into it now.”

McIntosh is enthusiastic about the league and would like to see an expanded schedule next year.

“I hope there is high school hockey next year so more people from my school can play,” he said. “That would be really fun. I hope that the high school hockey gets more into the schools so you that you have practice after school and stuff like that and become more involved with the school.”

Greene sees the league expanding to 20 teams next year and also is hoping to have a junior varsity program in place. In addition, the league would like to eventually have a girls division.

Starting a new league was a difficult and complex task and the success is due to the hard work of many unsung individuals, Conyers said. He initially didn’t think it was going to happen because past efforts proved unsuccessful.

“There was a huge amount of work by several different hockey associations and many, many volunteers,” Conyers said.

Each of the 11 teams probably has about five or six volunteers who log many hours, he added.

All the hard work is paying off, as attendance at games has been growing. More and more fans, many of them new to the sport, seem to be drawn by the speed of the game.

“They (fans) will see a fast-paced game,” said Edmonds-Woodway junior Brian Morgan. “It’s really not slow at all. You’ll see contact. It’s a physical game out there … you’ll see a high tempo and a lot of shots and a lot of goals.”

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