By Sandra Zunino
To some, ice is the perfect garnish for a cold beverage, but to the Easton IceHawks, ice is the playing field for a fast paced, physical sport. Governed by the Eastern Shore Hockey Association (ESHA), IceHawks are members of the Capital Beltway Hockey League (CBHL).
Formed in 1979, ESHA is a non-profit organization offering youth hockey to players ranging in age from 4 to 18 years old. The program fields competitive travel hockey teams at various levels and ages. The beginner’s stage, the Atoms program, is geared for players 4 to 6 years old. Each successive level goes up in two-year increments.
Practices and home games take place at the Talbot County Community Center. Travel teams practice twice a week and play in one to two games each weekend as well as a couple of tournaments each season.
Travel hockey involves a significant time commitment, according to ESHA President Kimberly Bryan. “Travel hockey is for the dedicated hockey player,” she says, “Games take place around Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and sometimes Pennsylvania, so weekends are taken up during the season.”
Tryouts are held at the end of August at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton because ice at the community center is not ready at that time.
Players must exhibit a level of skill and coordination on the ice, not only to create a competitive team, but for safety reasons as well.
Because the CBHL runs a jamboree on the Western shore around Labor Day to rank the teams, the IceHawks must get ready for the season as early as possible. “Other teams across the bridge have ice all year round, so they are ahead of us,” Kimberly explains.
Youth hockey teams compete in ranks with AA being the highest. “This year, for the first time, we have two teams playing in the AA rank,” says Kimberly. “We are very proud of that.”
Despite lack of a year-round rink, IceHawks teams hold their own. Last year the Bantams (13 to 14) won the CBHL Championship and Peewees (11 to 12) were runners up, coming in second place.
Even though winning is important, sportsmanship is paramount in the program. Unsportsmanlike conduct is treated very seriously, according to Kimberly.
An expensive sport, players pay dues upon registration and furnish their own equipment. With skates running anywhere from $150 to $700 and helmets starting at $150, a player can easily walk onto the ice in $1,000 worth of equipment. Additionally, ice time is expensive. Add in a couple tournaments at more than $700, and each team must hold fundraisers as needed.
Icehawks team players come from all over Talbot and Queen Anne’s County, and as far away as Ocean Pines, Snow Hill, Salisbury and Harrington, Delaware.
Youth hockey is a very close-knit group, says Kimberly. “We spend so much time together traveling and at games, it is like having a second family.”
For players who are less competitive or unable to make the travel team time commitment, the ESHA also holds a Rec League, practicing once a week with fewer games.
Games for both teams take place Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings at the community center. Spectators are welcome. For more information on the ESHA, visit www.eastonhockey.org or www.eteamz.com.