Washington Junior Nationals Hockey

Posted December 30, 2010

One of the D.C. area’s best kept hockey secrets is that there are high-level games going on that don’t cost $50 a ticket. And I’m not talking about driving out to Hershey for a Bears game or attending an A-level beer league game. I’m speaking of Junior A hockey, which includes some of the best amateur players on the East Coast. And just to prove that this is serious hockey, the league features full body checking, fighting, a team bus, and 44 games a season plus playoffs.

The Washington Junior Nationals play at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Maryland. The players, between the ages of 16 and 20, are talented skaters who are looking to make the next jump to higher levels of hockey in the U.S. and Canada, including college. While they’re not professional, their families invest heavily in this league and they must play well enough to stay on the team.

“The Nats are really trying to establish an environment for local players to move on directly to college from the Nats,” says team owner Stephen Lary. “Traditionally, players moved on to other leagues and teams prior to moving on to college because they felt it would be more exposure for them. We are trying to change that perception and have five players this year looking to move on to college next year.”

Some of the names of players who have gone through this system will even be familiar to Capitals fans, such as Jared Tinordi – whose father, Mark, played for the Capitals and coached the Junior Nats for a season, and David Bondra, the son of Capitals fan favorite Peter Bondra.

The 12 teams of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League are scattered from Maryland to Portland, Maine, so long bus rides are routine for these players. The Nats, a USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier III team, played at Kettler Iceplex in Arlington, Va. until this season.

More on the Junior Nationals