- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Scott Warren needed a way of keeping his ice rink busy in the spring.

Driving to his new job as the general manager of Skatequest in Dale City, Va., one April day, Warren came up with an unlikely answer.

What if, Warren reasoned, you combined the lacrosse beloved in his hometown of Baltimore with ice hockey, his main business?

It actually made sense, sort of.

Many of the hockey players who filled Skatequest in the fall and winter traded in their hockey sticks for lacrosse sticks in the spring. If they played lacrosse on ice they could come to the building year-round.

And at that moment, a sport was born — if not yet patented.

It’s called icecrosse, and it’s generating a “cool” reaction from those who have played it and those who have watched it, although many of the latter do a double take when they glance to the ice and see players with lacrosse sticks.

Some lacrosse coaches and players have sneered at the new game, and there surely will be similar feelings from hockey aficionados this fall. But icecrosse is not from a parallel universe. It’s just part of our X-games, fajita pizza, Cablinasian, blended culture times.

“Lacrosse and hockey are both physical sports and are similar to a degree with their cross-checking, stickwork, hand-eye coordination, stopping and starting and being quick on your feet,” said Skatequest hockey director R.J. Zeigler, who’s in charge of executing Warren’s vision. “So the marriage of the two was pretty seamless.”

Zeigler, a former Little Capitals winger, brought in high school athletes who play both hockey and lacrosse to give the game a try. No one knew whether the throwing, catching and shooting of lacrosse would work on skates, but icecrosse passed the test.

“Once you can convince people that it’s real and get them on the ice, they’re hooked,” said Warren, who at 35 is just five years older than James Naismith was when he hung a pair of peach baskets in a Springfield, Mass., gym and invented basketball in 1891.

“At first, I thought icecrosse was crazy, but once I tried it, it was pretty cool,” said 17-year-old Ben Boggs, a rising senior hockey and lacrosse player from North Stafford (Va.) High School after a recent workout in Dale City.

Mike Brennan, a 15-year-old rising junior hockey and lacrosse player from Osbourn Park High in Manassas, Va., agreed, noting icecrosse combines his two favorite sports.

“It’s fun and fast and has the contact I like,” Brennan said after beating his brother Brandon in goal with a high backhand flip shot.

Since icecrosse has yet to develop beyond scrimmages, no one’s sure what to expect. The consensus is scores of the 45-minute games will be closer to the teens of lacrosse than the low single digits of hockey.

That’s largely because the goalie’s job is so tough even with the ball painted orange to make it easier to spot. A save percentage that would earn a hockey goalie a permanent seat on the bench will make him an icecrosse star.

“It’s harder playing goalie than in hockey because the sticks aren’t on the ice,” said Brandon Brennan, 17, and a rising senior at Osbourn Park. “Shots can come from anywhere and from any angle, even behind you. Things happen too quickly for you to react in time.”

Of course, goalies aren’t the only players adjusting to a new game. North Stafford rising junior Adam Shiring, 16, said such lacrosse basics as throwing, catching and picking up groundballs are all more challenging on ice than on grass. So are missed shots which come caroming off the boards at high speed.

And everyone’s still learning the rules which the 24-year-old Zeigler put together from both hockey and lacrosse. There are no blue lines, but all of the equipment is of the hockey variety except the sticks, gloves and ball.

Skatequest officials, led by owners Jorge Kfoury and Jay Tompkins and executive director Nate Smith, an ex-Princeton hockey player, are in the process of applying for a patent for their invention. Getting a league started this summer has been difficult what with potential players having already planned their vacations and sports camps sessions.

However, by this time next year, Zeigler expects to have a regular schedule under way in Dale City and hopefully at Skatequest’s Reston rink as well. And from there, who knows?

An indoor version of lacrosse — box lacrosse — has long been played in Canada and now in a professional league on the East Coast. If the NHL’s 2004-2005 season, as expected, is delayed by a labor battle, icecrosse could be a worthy Gen-Y replacement.

“Icecrosse was almost born out of necessity, but my vision of it is much bigger than this building,” Warren said. “I see this going international. Hockey is huge in Canada, but lacrosse is the national sport. Our current players are high school kids, but I can see it expanding pretty quickly to youth leagues, adult leagues, leagues for different levels of ability and ultimately a pro league along the lines of an X-Games sport.”

Scoff if you will, but Naismith’s game went pro just seven years after its birth. And change happens more rapidly in today’s world than it did back then.

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