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North Stars' opener is icing on cake for Washington County hockey

December 04, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

The Washington County North Stars play to win.

That's why they practice and that's why they have battled for the right to finally play in the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League.

But with all that being said, never did a tie feel so good.

It wasn't if they won or lost, it was just that the North Stars finally got to play a game. A real game. One on the high school level, in a real league and in front of a large contingent of home fans. It didn't really matter that Walkersville scored three goals in the third period on Monday to pull out a 4-4 tie at the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex.

"I never thought this would actually get together," said North Stars center Eric Bowers, who scored a hat trick. "It's been a lot of fun, being able to play here with my friends. It's exciting because a lot of people came out ... a lot more than were here for our practice games."

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It was a whole new world for the North Stars, who came out in their new red-and-black uniforms. The team, which is a conglomeration of 16 players from most of the schools in Washington County, uses the Minnesota North Stars' emblem on the adopted color scheme of North Hagerstown High.

They opened their first-ever home game with Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II dropping the puck for a ceremonial faceoff after the public address announcer said, "We are celebrating the beginning of high school hockey in Washington County."

It was truly a beginning.

"This was real big," Washington County coach Jamie Blackwood said. "It was our first regular-season game and we pulled it off. The kids were nervous and I was nervous about this game, but we pulled it off. I wanted it to go right for the kids. Now it's full steam ahead."

Hagerstown's hockey advocates had worked long and hard to get the chance to skate into the season, even though there are some skeptics.

"We aren't over the top of this mountain yet," Blackwood said. "As far as the school district is concerned, we are still a club team. It's still an uphill battle. We want to sit down with the district and educate them about hockey and its benefits it has for the kids. They think we are a fly-by-night operation. It is a different animal. We are in this for the long haul."

Washington County is in the Monocacy Valley division of the Maryland Scholastic League, which has a massive contingent of schools playing across the state. The North Stars are breaking the mold of being a one-school team, like Frederick, Middletown, Thomas Johnson and a few others in their division, but it gives them a place to gain footing to expand.

"We fall within the rules of the league," Blackwood said. "We had to make them understand that this is a rural county with one ice rink and we don't have one school that can put all the players out. We have to expose the kids to the sport. We have the equipment. We just need the kids to put in it to learn the game."

Many of the North Stars have been playing for years. They were on the ice playing elsewhere until Washington County gave them a place to play. Most of them play on club and travel teams, too, honing their skills.

Monday was the chance to showcase it at home.

Washington County broke the ice on a Joe Blackwood goal off a Jack Barr assist at the 12:32 mark of the first period, only to have Walkersville's Ben Arnold tie the score 4 1/2 minutes later.

The North Stars hit their stride in the second period as Bowers scored all three of his goals in an 8 1/2-minute stretch. The Williamsport senior connected off a rink-long rush and fought for two scores in the crease on assists by Joe Blackwood, Kevin McCormack and Barr for 4-1 lead.

"I got some good breaks," Bowers said. "It all came from people - the other guys on the team - setting me up. It was all from good plays that we have learned in practice."

But the bottom fell out in the third period as Keith Wetzel scored twice and Arnold added a second goal, this one with 6:42 remaining, to force the North Stars to settle for the tie.

"We allowed them back into the game," Jamie Blackwood said. "Hockey is like any other sport. You relax, they get a goal and start rolling. They were freshman mistakes but they will be corrected with practice. We have only been able to practice four times together."

Opening with a 0-0-1 record didn't matter. It was a start.

"From here, we can only go up," Bowers said.

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