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LOOKING FOR ICE TIME : Earning a Hockey Scholarship Isn't Easy in Orange County, so Some Leave in Hopes of Receiving More Attention From Colleges


Winter was never like this for three Orange County ice hockey players.

In Massachusetts, it's colder outside the rink.

Nick Dancey of Anaheim Hills, Blake Pickett of Coto de Caza and Chris White of Santa Ana are at Cushing Academy--a boarding school in Ashburnham, Mass.--honing their hockey skills and hoping to capture the attention of an NCAA Division I hockey program.

It makes for a drastic acclimatization, but these 15-year-olds are a hearty trio. "It's not that bad," said White, looking out his dorm room window at a 40-degree rain. "I was walking around in a T-shirt today after school."

Just as he would have last year as a freshman at Foothill High? Well, not quite. Last week, White was heading for hockey practice at Theodore Iorio Arena, Cushing's state-of-the-art ice rink.

Southern California, of course, doesn't have high school hockey. The sport is left to the marketplace with players developing their skating and slap shots in youth leagues at private ice rinks.

The better players usually join traveling club teams, but conventional wisdom says after a certain age you must leave California to continue improving.

Mighty Duck minor-leaguer Richard Park, for instance, started playing hockey at a rink in Brea, and at 13 moved to Toronto with an older sister in search of better competition and coaching.

California youth hockey has improved in the nine years since Park moved to Canada, but the state still isn't on the itinerary for college recruiters.

Cushing certainly is. The school had two of the top prep school defensemen in the United States the last two years--Tom Poti (now at Boston University) and Bobby Allen (Boston College). Four of the five graduates from last year's Cushing team received Division I scholarships. The fifth turned professional and is playing at the major junior level in the Ontario Hockey League.

White, Pickett and Dancey are hoping for similar success but have a way to go, having not cracked the varsity "A" team yet. The three play for the varsity "B" team.

They could be playing varsity at another prep school, Cushing Coach Steve Jacobs said, and each is on track to play at that level at Cushing. They all show a knack for the game but must improve their strength, Jacobs said, "These guys are all great kids, they really are."

White, a 5-foot-5, 135-pound forward, is one of three B team players who occasionally practice and play with the varsity. His father, Ron, owns Glacial Garden ice rinks in Anaheim and Lakewood, so Chris had plenty of opportunity for ice time growing up.

"To me he has unlimited potential," Jacobs said. "He's dynamic, very quick and has tremendous hands. He plays a very cerebral type of game."

At 5-9 1/2, 155 pounds, Pickett also plays forward. He and White have been playing on the same line since they were 5 and it shows. Said Jacobs: "Blake also has a tremendous feel and a head for the game."

Jacobs called the 6-0, 205-pound Dancey "a big, raw defenseman."

"He's been playing well," Jacobs said. "He started slowly but he's really been coming on. He's big but needs to get stronger and also work on the little things you have to do to be a good defender."


Sending a 15-year-old son to boarding school wasn't a decision these families took lightly. First there's the expense--at nearly $25,000 per year in tuition and room and board, a Cushing education can deplete even the healthiest college savings account. Need-based financial aid is available.

Then there's the separation anxiety; in these cases it appears to be affecting the parents more than the boys. There has been no evidence of homesickness. It didn't take long for them to adjust and blend into the 400 boys and girls at the 138-year-old campus set among rolling hills about 75 miles west of Boston.

"When I first dropped Nick off, I had a day left to be there and he says, 'Bye' " said Don Dancey, Nick's father. "I said, 'Wait a minute, I still have a day to stay.' He said, 'I'm OK, Dad. I'll see you in a month.'

"I'm pretty much convinced that Nick will never move back to California. He's going to high school there, he probably will go to college back there and stay to live.

"He likes everything about it."

With an average class size of 12, Cushing provides an intimate academic experience. Discipline is firm--students are required to be studying in their rooms for at least two hours each evening--but not overbearing. The parents say the feeling at the school is familial.

"You definitely miss them," said Denise Pickett, Blake's mother, "but you know they're in great hands."

Even so, Ron White said, he and his wife Rose feel like they're missing important parts of their son's life. "It's very upsetting to us," he said. "It has its pluses and minuses and it will take years before we can add it up and say whether it was worth it. At least the schedule is such that we can see him a lot."


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