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Players don't fall short on the rink

Score one for the little guys.

Two pint-sized roller hockey players, whose sport more often features high-level players closer to 6 feet tall, are winning attention from the professionals.

Kevin Long, 17, is 5 feet 4 and weighs about 125 pounds. "Maybe 130 with his equipment on," said his coach, William Connery.

Chad Severino, 18, huskier at about 150, is also 5 feet 4. He is a goalie considered one of the top three in the southeastern United States, according to Connery.

After tryouts this month, both are being considered for teams in the Major League Roller Hockey Association, a nationwide league in its second year that also has a division in the United Kingdom. Both expect to be selected for a team and to play this summer.

To hear them tell it, small size is no factor.

"Size doesn't bother me," said Long, a senior at Pinellas Park High School. "I like it that way."

He elaborated in a resume Connery prepared: "I've been the undersized player everywhere I've played, so I don't see why it would be any different. There is always that chance of contact and unless they break a bone in my body, they're not going to knock me out of the game."

Connery said opponents have believed they could make Long back down. "It's never really proven to be an effective strategy," he said. To prove his point, Connery cited three evaluation games and a final selection game at the tryouts. He said Long had a four-game total of one goal, 10 assists, 20 shots on goal and 41 steals.

Long, who has played for five years, said he has learned to handle the rougher moments. "When I started playing, I wasn't naturally tough," he said. "But as I continued, it got to be more natural."

Roller hockey is much like ice hockey. Players use a stick to slap a puck at a goal, but the game is played on in-line skates instead of ice skates. Fighting is forbidden, but there is still plenty of body checking and hard contact.

Severino plays goalkeeper and is not exposed to quite so much contact. But smaller size still could be a disadvantage when it comes to stretching and reaching to block hard shots on goal. It apparently is no problem for Severino.

"I've only been playing the game for three years, but the guys I've played with say I play with a lot of energy and adrenaline and get to the puck like a natural," said Severino, a Lakewood High School graduate who is a freshman at St. Petersburg Junior College.

Orlando has a team in the Major League Roller Hockey Association, and it is possible both Severino and Long could play for it. The season runs from June through August, which both players say fits well with their college schedule.

The Major League follows Roller Hockey International, a pro league that began in 1993 and folded after the 1997 season. The Tampa Bay Tritons played in the league during 1994.

After RHI's demise, "I picked up the pieces and charged on," said Major League founder and president Bill Raue. The new league has 12 teams in the United States, one in Canada and "six or seven" in the United Kingdom, Raue said.