Hockey players juggle junior league and high school team commitments -- Gazette.Net


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Oakdale High School senior Zach Pard is happy knowing he’ll be able to spend his last year of high school playing for his high school team and his junior hockey team, the Frederick Freeze.

Playing for the Bears, Pard has the chance to represent Oakdale athletically and wear the black and silver jersey.

For the Freeze, he has a chance to play against some of the better junior hockey teams in the Northeast while developing his skills for the opportunity to play after high school.

“I try to play as good as I can for either team, no matter the skill level, and give it my all when I’m out there,” said Pard, Oakdale’s captain. “I notice a difference, definitely, but in comparison to the other players, we all work pretty hard.”

Playing for both teams nearly wasn’t an option a few weeks ago, when the Freeze made the decision to allow its players to play for both teams.

Allowing players to play for their junior team and the high school team has been an issue in the past.

Junior teams play several tournaments throughout the year, which can conflict with the high school schedule and sometimes prevent players from playing with their high school teams during playoff time.

The difference in levels of play can also lead to bad habits because things that work on the high school level may not work in juniors.

Urbana coach Toby Heusser thinks kids should be allowed to play as much hockey as possible.

“I think it’s wrong,” he said. “The kids should be on the ice and play ice hockey as much as they can. Especially in Maryland because not too many of these kids will go too far. I have a lot of kids come back and say ,‘I wish I wouldn’t have missed games.’”

Junior schedules take high schoolers on extended trips, where they typically play four games. Teams can have players as old as 20 and as young as 16, giving players the opportunity to play against the toughest competition possible.

“With junior hockey, it’s more about physicality, hitting and using your body to get positioning,” Pard said. “High school hockey is more finesse. I don’t want to say it’s less skilled, but you have to try harder in juniors because people are a lot bigger.”

Sean Donegan, who coaches for the Freeze and Walkersville High School, said of juniors, “That’s the real deal. They play with NCAA rules and play three hour games.”

That’s opposed to high school, where teams play 15 minute periods and the ice is only cleaned once between the second and third periods.

But there are merits to playing both. Oakdale coach Dave Pard, who also coaches for the Freeze, said junior hockey is the best way to prepare a player for the next level, but he also sees playing for the high school team as a way to connect with the school.

“The hockey season prohibits them from participating in fall and winter sports, so this is a way for them to fit into their school athletic scene,” he said. “The high school team brings a social value. The kids have more opportunities to play in front of their peers instead of just their girlfriends and their parents.”

Zach Pard didn’t have to make a choice between teams and he’s happy to be playing for both.

“It’s hard for me because I’m the captain for Oakdale, but if we had to make a choice, I probably still would have played both if I could,” he said. “I love playing with the guys on both teams.”

cstevens@gazette.net