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Living on the edge

April 07, 1999|By DAN SPEARS

Dani Dill considers herself a realist.

"I'm one of those people that waits until something happens to believe it," said the Heritage Academy student who turned 15 earlier this month.

So forgive her if she's all smiles tonight when her Little Capitals ice hockey team goes through the opening ceremonies at this weekend's under-19 U.S. National Championships in Rockville, Md.

Because since September, it's been a very fast and very fun ride to the top for Dill.

"I'm really excited," she said. "I'm still waiting for the catch."

There's no catch to wait for. After a camp in Colorado, Dill was approached by Little Caps coach Kush Sidhu to move up to the the under-19 level - at age 14.

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"He didn't tell me until the end of camp," Dill said. "I wasn't expecting it at all. I still thought I had two more years to get there, but I'm glad I made it now."

She would have missed some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. The team traveled to Sweden and Finland over Christmas break, and just got back from a three-day trip to Canada on Sunday.

Add that in with weekend trips up and down the East Coast, it almost seems as if they're on the schedule of the big Capitals.

"Sometimes it's a little hectic. You think, 'Hey, I'm 14 years old, I want to go out on a Friday night,'" Dill said. "But you have practice that night and then Saturday you have a game.

"But it's fun because you get to skate. ... And you can skate, no matter what you're doing. If you're mad or whatever, you can always go skate. It's kind of like a mini-vacation."

But the game itself is no day at the beach - or rink, in this case. Dill grew up playing in boys leagues with boys rules, so the girls game provided a reality "check" for the goaltender-turned-defenseman.

"In guys hockey, as long as you hit the person, you're all right," Dill said. "In girls hockey, you have to think. You rely a lot more on passing, teamwork and patterns."

And then she grinned.

"But you can play the body; you can check them ... if you don't get caught."

So, no Chris Chelios-like body blows into the boards this weekend from the Detroit Red Wings fan. Actually, expect her to be more like Wayne Gretzky on the Little Caps' back line.

"There's a lot more discipline," Dill said. "Compared to guys, you need more of it in girls hockey. It's difficult, there's so many little moves to learn."

There was also plenty to learn off the ice after moving up another level. But Dill says her teammates think of her as just another rookie.

"In Sweden, I had to carry the stick bag every day," she said with a laugh. "We've found ways to communicate. Playing in Sweden we saw each other every day, so we got used to those people being around all the time. It's kinda like a big family in a way."

This family also has a little revenge on its mind. The Little Caps finished third in the tournament last year, but this year's event will be on their home ice. A move up the podium is important.

"I've heard there's going to be some college scouts there, and for some of my teammates, that could decide their future," Dill said. "Plus, it's their last shot to win nationals."

And that little piece of reality could just be the start of Dill's biggest fantasy.

"I always wanted to play in the NHL, and a lot of my guy friends are like, 'You can't play in the NHL,'" Dill said. "But now I can play in the Olympics, so that's my biggest goal now. ...

"And to win nationals, that's almost like winning the Olympics."

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