By KEITH McMILLAN
An errant pass whizzed over the boards at Dale City’s SkateQuest ice rink on Monday afternoon, meeting the wall above the bleachers with a loud ”clang!” The small orange ball caromed off the metal surface, then back over the boards on to the ice. It took one hop towards a rapidly skating player, who scooped the ball up with his stick and instantly put it back in play.
You’d never see that in a regulation hockey game. Nor would one find an attackman gliding past midfield on ice skates in a lacrosse match.
But in the marriage of the two sports — called Icecrosse — recently invented and put on ice at SkateQuest, occurrences not entirely possible in either hockey or lacrosse become reality.
For that, the sports world owes its thanks to Scott Warren, a 35-year-old Baltimore native who became SkateQuest’s general manager in March. Warren, hoping to keep the ice rink busy during its traditionally slow summers, dreamed up the sport while driving home from his mother’s house on Easter Sunday.
”This sort of developed because a lot of our guys that play hockey here in the fall and winter were playing lacrosse in the spring,” Warren said. ”They’re both similar sports, they’re both physical, the penalties are similar. The marriage between the two has been pretty seamless.”
Warren said he first mentioned the six-on-six hybrid of box lacrosse and ice hockey in a weekly staff meeting at SkateQuest. He said his idea was met first with silence and doubt.
”It was kind of like a thing where we were like ‘yeah, right,” said hockey director R.J. Zeigler, initially one of the more skeptical staff members. ”We all laughed.”
”’I’m serious, this could be something,”’ Warren recalls saying.
The idea has become serious, as SkateQuest has patented the game, with Warren leading the charge to establish a national governing body. Currently, games played are of the pickup variety, but Warren hopes to eventually run leagues locally for adults and children.
”Next spring or summer it could be real strong for us,” Warren said.
Warren said he even doubted himself after the initial meeting, leaving it not quite of sure what he was feeling.
”I asked some of the high school guys here to test it out to see if I was nuts or if it was going to work,” Warren said.
He says he asked one player who had played both hockey and lacrosse if he would try it.
”He said ‘are you serious?, I’d love to play,”’ Warren recalls. ”’I’d sign up today.”’
After getting a few similar responses, Warren knew he was onto something. He set up a few games, and everyone who has tried it, he said, is hooked.
Icecrosse is played with two attackmen, two defenders, a middie and a goalie. Players wear ice skates and other hockey gear head-to-toe. The only lacrosse elements in the uniform are the stick, the ball and possibly the helmet.
Warren and the SkateQuest staff established the game’s rules by combining ice hockey and box (indoor) lacrosse rules, then tweaking them based on the input of the players who tried the game.
In developing the sport, there were decisions to make on things like whether to keep the three-period system of hockey or four quarters of lacrosse. Some rules, like allowing players to check a goalie who leaves the crease, are completely different than they traditionally would be in one sport or the other. Some of the game’s quirks, such as the football-like passes from blue line to blue line, emerge from competition.
Overall, Warren is satisfied with how the game is evolving.
”I like the fast pace and the physical aspect,” Warren said. ”It’s pretty much what I envisioned from the beginning. It’s faster than the field game [of lacrosse], and you see some exciting shots that you can’t do in hockey.”
On Monday, two staff members from Inside Lacrosse magazine joined high school players from Osbourn Park, North Stafford and adults from Oakton in a game. They all give the sport a thumbs up.
”It was a lot more organized than I thought it was going to be,” said Matt Sacco, Inside Lacrosse’s online editor. ”Having played hockey and lacrosse, and experimenting with sports when I was a kid, it always ended up sloppy or in some sort of scrum, and it wasn’t like that. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was a lot of fun to play.”
”It’s awesome,” said 20-year-old Dale City resident Roy Poorker, a hockey goalkeeper who was playing icecrosse for the first time. ”It’s a lot of hard work, and it’s a good experience for working on my eyesight. That little orange ball, you really have to keep your eyes on it. With a puck, it’s so different. It’s heavier, and it’s almost always on the ground.”
John Snevely, a 21-year-old Herndon resident who played lacrosse at Virginia Wesleyan College, considered himself one of the few players present whose athletic background was more lacrosse than hockey.
”It’s a lot more tiring [than regular lacrosse] because you’re always moving,” Snevely said. ”It’s certainly harder to dodge [checks], but the stick skills are basically the same. It’s all about getting your feet under you.”
Snevely knows that first hand. At one point, he wound up to put some power behind a shot. As he came forward with his lacrosse stick, his skates slid along the ice and he ended up on the ground.
Brandon Brennan and Mike Brennan of Osbourn Park High School joined Tim Cassie, Kyle Stutzman and Austin Boettcher, all North Stafford High School students, at Monday’s two-hour icecrosse workout.
Though SkateQuest is the birthplace of the sport, it’s already spreading across North America. Warren says he’s received calls from interested ice rink managers in Canada, where lacrosse and hockey are the country’s most popular sports, as well as Michigan, Florida, New York and Texas.
But others temper their excitement about Icecrosse.
”I could see it maybe catching on as an underground thing,” said Sacco. ”It has a very low ceiling, considering that hockey is the least popular of the major American sports, and lacrosse is still very much a regional thing. So to create a new sport by combining those two sports, which are still growing, is not going to give you an explosion in popularity. But [icecrosse] is hard not to enjoy.”
”I think it has a good chance of working,” said Zeigler, a 24-year-old former junior hockey player. ”If you would have asked me that three months ago, I might not have given you the same answer.”
Warren knows that some hockey or lacrosse purists may disapprove, even though he and others consider it a good way to work on particular skills during what would be an offseason. Warren sees the sport as a summer sport, not one to overlap with the normal hockey or lacrosse seasons.
”There are certainly people who are going to be either hockey or lacrosse, or dedicated to the traditions of those games, and that’s okay,” Warren said.
That’s easier to say because icecross is heading in the right direction.
There is a group of about 15-20 regulars that play at SkateQuest, and organizers plan to use the busy fall and winter seasons to drum up more interest for icecrosse. The SkateQuest staff, which includes director of facilities Chris Borner and executive director Nate Smith along with Warren, Ziegler and others, is developing learn-to-play programs and refining the rules so they can certify officials and make sure the game is safe for participants. The patent is in place and the governing body is in the works.
”It’s a really cool change,” Ziegler said. ”It brings together two sports that have kind of always been linked.”
Some people just might think Warren is crazy for trying to bring together the two. But he doesn’t mind.
”You’ve got to be thought of as nuts,” Warren said. ”I’m sure everyone along the way, from football to snowboarding, was [thought of that way]. And then it develops into something.”