Alex DeYoung stands between the pipes of his goal staring down the most exciting play in hockey — the penalty shot, a one-on-one duel between the goalie and shooter.
Representing Virginia and his home rink in Chantilly at the State Wars Roller Hockey Tournament in Cincinnati, he knows that a goal for the opposing team would give them valuable momentum. It's his job to rob them of that opportunity.
The whistle blows and the opposing skater darts down the ice. DeYoung squares up to the shooter, cuts off the angle and blocks the shot, averting the crisis.
Impressive stuff, but then again, he's just doing his job.
"I had to face two penalty shots," said the 13-year-old Fairfax native. "That was really exciting. They're tough to stop."
DeYoung's cool presence in net helped Team Virginia to a 3-0-1 record at the State Wars Roller Hockey Tournament and an appearance in the gold medal match.
The four-on-four roller hockey tournament, which took place July 29 to Aug. 9, featured 250 teams, divided by birth years and skill level. State Wars could be described as the grand stage for youth roller hockey.
"The atmosphere is just great," said Michael DeYoung, Team Virginia's manager. "The crowd really gets into it. When the kids score, an announcer belts out their name. It's just a cool experience. The kids take real pride in representing their state. It's like the Little League World Series for roller hockey."
The 1996 AA Virginia Team was put together after numerous tryouts and featured players from Oakton, Fairfax and other areas of Virginia. The team practiced at its home rink, The Box Inline Hockey Rink in Chantilly, and had to work quickly to find team chemistry.
"We really only had two practices before the tournament," said Head Coach Soren Rucker, a rising senior at Oakton High School. "We agreed that our philosophy would be to outwork the other team. Every loose puck was going to be ours."
That philosophy paid off. The team's 3-0-1 record in the round robin wasn't a result of just showing up to play. In two of its games, Team Virginia had to overcome deficits of two or more goals in the final period.
"Our first game we fell behind 2-0 right away," Soren Rucker said. "They got right back into it and fought back to win 4-2. I think that game really announced what we were all about."
VIRGINIA’S CHARACTER play and hard work also made it one of the tournament's offensive juggernauts.
The team scored a total of 27 goals in just seven games and Oakton resident Liam Rucker, 13, the coach’s brother, was named the top shooter in the skills competition.
Liam Rucker wasn't the only award winner from Virginia, Alex DeYoung was named the top goalie in the skills competition as well.
"We had so much confidence in our defense and Alex DeYoung," Soren Rucker said. "We felt like we could go out there and score as much as we wanted to."
Perhaps the most memorable game came when the team faced Tennessee in the playoffs. The game included nine goals, a late comeback by Tennessee and a buzzer-beater shot to win the game and advance to the finals.
"I will always remember the Tennessee game," Rucker said. "I was just so proud with how they worked out there."
Despite all of the success, the tournament didn't end with Virginia on the gold medal podium. Virginia lost to New York 5-4, but not without an exciting finish to the game.
In the last three minutes of the gold medal game against New York, a Virginia player was ejected for a check from behind.
Virginia played the remainder of the game on the penalty kill and lost in the final seconds.
"It was a good play, [not a penalty]," Liam Rucker said. "[The refs] said he checked [the New York player] from behind but he really just skated close to him. The [New York player] just fell down."
To make matters worse, the referees disallowed a Virginia goal that might have been the difference maker.
"The puck looked like it was in the net," Michael DeYoung said. "Our guys were celebrating. The New York team acted like it was in and their fans thought it was, too. But the refs didn't count it."
Despite the tournament ending in defeat, Alex DeYoung has his sights on winning a gold medal in the future.
"I'm going to work harder," he said. "Next year, I want to win the gold."