Ice hockey is one of the most popular sports in the DMV. The Washington Capitals, the local professional hockey team, have been in the top half of the NHL in attendance every year since 2008. Since the Caps 2018 Stanley Cup win, the popularity of ice hockey in the area has just kept on growing.
Yet unlike the other three major American sports (football, basketball, baseball), high school hockey isn’t an official sport in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA). Public school students are able to hone their skills on the ice through participation in the Maryland Student Hockey League (MSHL), an organization now in its 31st season. Though unaffiliated with MPSSAA, MSHL does abide by many of MPSSAA rules and regulations.
This means that ice hockey functions a bit differently than other school sports. Players have to pay for everything. This includes ice time, gear, jersey and even league fees. And the prices for these things aren’t cheap.
At Quince Orchard High School, the team is considered the Ice Hockey Club, which gives the team some non-monetary benefits. But its unofficial status means that it doesn’t qualify for booster club funding, something second-year head coach Andy Katon believes doesn’t make any sense.
“Why they don’t support us is a very difficult question for me to answer,” Coach Katon said, noting that “some families have multiple kids playing, so it can be burdensome.”
With the financial costs of ice time and limited availability, the team can only practice once a week. All the way out in Fredrick on Monday afternoons, the team has their weekly. In addition to this, the whole coaching staff is compiled of parent volunteers.
The team this year is having its best start to a season ever. In the first 10 games of the season, the Cougars have accumulated 10 points, going 4-4-2 while playing all teams in the league. And while playing very well, this team is also very young. The two leading scorers are brothers, Tyler and Dylan Eyester, who are junior and freshman forwards respectively. After the two brothers, third in scoring is another freshman, Josh Weitzman. The team doesn’t only have these young players, however. The senior class is led by Jared Katon, son of the Coach Andy Katon, and goalie Noah Patrick.
Coach Katon said this combination of young and old creates a great balance. “We are having the best start to our season ever,” he said, “and I think the balance of the skill of the underclassman and leadership of the seniors has made that possible.”
Now halfway through the season, Quince Orchard is on track to make the state playoffs for the first time in the team’s four-year history. They have already done something they had never done before this year, in beating Wootton, and they hope to continue their success into the second half and make a deep run in the playoffs.