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Mites on Ice

Bulldogs make appearance at NHL game

Bulldogs make appearance at NHL game

February 10, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

After one trip to "The Phone Booth," Ryan Martin was ready to make his call for his future career.

"I want to be a professional hockey player," Martin said. "You get to play every couple of days and it feels good to have people watching you play. And, because if you make it, they pay you a lot of money to have fun."

The 7-year-old got the idea about what hockey on the big stage is all about after his team, the Bulldogs of the Hagerstown Mites hockey league, got its chance to perform on the ice at MCI Center between the first and second periods of Jan. 31's Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals game.

The Bulldogs signed up and were granted three minutes of playing time as part of the Capitals' "Mites on Ice" program, which allows the youth of the Baltimore, D.C. and Northern Virginia areas a chance to show their games. It is a program which is offered by many of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League and the Hershey Bears minor league team.

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"The kids were pumped," said Michelle Benda, the general manager of the Hagerstown Youth Hockey Association. "I met my contact person there and he said that not many teams get the chance to do this, but it is one of the favorite intermission features of the Capitals fans. A lot of them will stay in their seats to watch and cheer the kids and then go up for their snacks.

"The kids were so excited to be skating on the same ice as (goalie) Olie Kolzig and (center) Jaromir Jagr."

Mites are players ranging from ages 5-8 who are just learning the game of hockey. The Bulldogs, who play and practice at the Hagerstown Ice and Sport Complex, were eager for the chance to play, even though it was for only three minutes.

"NHL keeps the time so tight," Benda said. "They have to have the zamboni out to treat the ice by a certain time, so it didn't give the kids much time to play."

It didn't matter as the 14 members of the Bulldogs - who wore Caps jerseys for the exhibition - split into two teams, including goalies, and scrimmaged to a 0-0 tie. The fans cheered and the players worked the puck from blue line to blue line, looking for the break to make the offensive rush to the net.

"My son, Jeremy, was playing and told me afterwards that he was trying to look for me in the stands, but couldn't because he had to keep his eyes on the puck," Benda said.

"He would have had a tough time finding me because we were up in the nosebleed section, but it was cute."

Jeremy Benda took his few minutes of early fame seriously.

"I was nervous when I got on the ice," said the 5-year-old Jeremy. "But when I was playing I wasn't nervous. I want to play when I get older because I like to score and check."

Other players, like 7-year-old John Lathrop, just thought it was "cool" and it made him "want to be a pro someday."

Most of the players welcomed the extra attention their game drew.

"The three minutes went real fast," Sean Kreps said. "There was probably 100 more people watching us play compared to usual. I really wanted to use my backhand (moves) on the ice. My backhand is great ... it's better than some older guys like you."

One of the big hits of the evening for the players was the appearance of Slapshot, the bird mascot of the Capitals. As the players left the ice, he presented each with a souvenir bag which included a Frisbee, water bottle, a puck and a couple of Caps pins. The Bulldogs didn't get the chance to meet any players or get autographs, but it didn't seem like a huge disappointment.

The players and their parents well get the chance to savor the experience for years to come because the three minutes of fame was filmed by the Capitals.

Still, there were other memories.

"It was cool playing on the Capitals' ice," Martin said. "It was kind of short, but cool. I was just trying to get the puck and go for the goal. It was kind of cool to play where the big guys play."

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