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As Black Ice tournament opens in Concord today, more female teams take the ice

  • Angela Perry, left, and Nicole Ash, put on their skates before taking the ice at a backyard pond in Boscawen belonging to Stan Balch. The Angry Pirates, an all-woman hockey team competing this weekend in the Black Ice Hockey tournament, practiced on the pond on Thursday evening, January 23, 2014 in preparation for this weekend's tournaments.<br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Angela Perry, left, and Nicole Ash, put on their skates before taking the ice at a backyard pond in Boscawen belonging to Stan Balch. The Angry Pirates, an all-woman hockey team competing this weekend in the Black Ice Hockey tournament, practiced on the pond on Thursday evening, January 23, 2014 in preparation for this weekend's tournaments.


    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • The all-woman Angry Pirates Black Ice Hockey team practiced on a pond outside a Boscawen home belonging to Stan Balch on Thursday evening, January 23, 2014 in preparation for this weekend's tournaments.<br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    The all-woman Angry Pirates Black Ice Hockey team practiced on a pond outside a Boscawen home belonging to Stan Balch on Thursday evening, January 23, 2014 in preparation for this weekend's tournaments.


    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • The all-woman Angry Pirates Black Ice Hockey team practiced on a pond outside a Boscawen home belonging to Stan Balch on Thursday evening, January 23, 2014 in preparation for this weekend's tournaments.<br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    The all-woman Angry Pirates Black Ice Hockey team practiced on a pond outside a Boscawen home belonging to Stan Balch on Thursday evening, January 23, 2014 in preparation for this weekend's tournaments.


    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Angela Perry, left, and Nicole Ash, put on their skates before taking the ice at a backyard pond in Boscawen belonging to Stan Balch. The Angry Pirates, an all-woman hockey team competing this weekend in the Black Ice Hockey tournament, practiced on the pond on Thursday evening, January 23, 2014 in preparation for this weekend's tournaments.<br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • The all-woman Angry Pirates Black Ice Hockey team practiced on a pond outside a Boscawen home belonging to Stan Balch on Thursday evening, January 23, 2014 in preparation for this weekend's tournaments.<br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • The all-woman Angry Pirates Black Ice Hockey team practiced on a pond outside a Boscawen home belonging to Stan Balch on Thursday evening, January 23, 2014 in preparation for this weekend's tournaments.<br/><br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Beth Mayland is a hockey mom, but she doesn’t stick to the cheering section.

The 43-year-old Hopkinton resident had watched enough pond hockey games in her backyard, where her three sons and her husband push the puck around all winter. So several years ago, she strapped on some skates and grabbed a stick herself.

“I got tired of watching everyone else play hockey,” Mayland said.

This weekend, her sons, ages 9, 12 and 15, will watch their mom take to the ice during the Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship. Her team – the Hellcats – will compete in a bracket with eight other women’s teams, the greatest number of female participants the tournament has seen yet.

The fourth annual competition kicks off at White Park today and continues through the weekend, ending with championship games Sunday morning. Chris Brown, one of the founders of the nonprofit Black Ice Pond Hockey Association and president of New Hampshire Distributors, said the event has become a staple for winter entertainment in Concord.

“It’s something that people look forward to,” Brown said. “After that first year, you saw the kind of ambiance and awe of the event occurring down there. . . . I really hear from so many people that it’s a wonderful use of the park.”

Brown, a Concord resident, learned to skate on the ice at White Park as a kid. He and some friends started this pond hockey tournament in 2010 as the key event in a private-public partnership, run by the nonprofit that donates much of its proceeds to city projects and youth hockey programs in the area.

“We hope to raise around, I would think, $40,000 from an event like this,” Brown said. “Some of it we are putting toward the potential new skate house to be built at White Park. . . . We want to make White Park a better place than when we came.”

He remembered the first day of the first tournament, which began with a ceremonial drop of the puck on the pond. As the teams and spectators lined up to watch the puck fall, Brown said he could feel the start of a unique tradition in Concord – whether it was the cold or something more.

“You got that tingle,” he said.

This year, 89 teams signed up to play. Nine of those teams are part of the women’s bracket – a jump from only five last year.

Among those lady skaters are the GAL-oots, and Cathy Menard. She’s been playing hockey since her father, a college hockey coach at St. Lawrence University in New York, taught her as a little girl, and she has competed in the Black Ice tournament every year since it began.

“It’s such a joyful game,” said Menard, 53. “Especially pond hockey, you’re outside. You’re in the fresh air. It’s a gliding, fluid game. Whoever’s got the most heart, wins.”

Menard played on a women’s hockey team in college, when she said her squad had few competitors in the area. But when she and some friends organized a women’s hockey league in the 1980s, the chance to play drew female players from across the state.

“Sixty women showed up the first night,” she said.

Over the years, other area clubs popped up in Nashua and Laconia, Menard said. The club she helped start grew into the Concord Nor’Easters, a recreational hockey league for women. She doesn’t skate with that group anymore, but she still loves the sport.

“It has a bad rap as being really tough if you look on TV, but especially the way women play, it’s more of a skating game,” Menard said.

When Nici Ash of Bristol signed up to play with her team this weekend, she knew how to skate. But that’s it.

“It’s a little bit different when you get a stick in your hand,” said Ash, 40.

Ash heard about the tournament because some of the men she works with at Unitil field several pond hockey teams at the White Park competition. This year, her team – the Angry Pirates – is ready to compete in the women’s bracket.

And tonight, the co-workers will face off on the pond after tournament play is over – “an exhibition game,” Ash said.

“It’s all for fun. . . . I’m just looking forward to getting out and seeing how the whole thing works there,” she said. “It sounds like a great event.”

The Angry Pirates got their gear from Capital Sporting Goods in Concord, where owner Dave Palisi said he has seen programs such as Concord Youth Hockey open more options to girls than in years past.

As more girls’ and women’s teams crop up, Palisi said he sees more female players interested in the sport and its nuances.

“It’s not a rough-and-tumble game as much as it is a skill game (for female players),” Palisi said.

Tournament play starts today at 9 a.m., and there is no charge for spectators. Full schedules and scores are available online at blackicepondhockey.com.

Mayland, who skates with the Nor’Easters, said the club always welcomes new players who want to learn the sport. And in her own family, she might have a budding female hockey player.

“We play as a family out in the backyard,” she said. “Even my 5-year-old daughter is starting to get around on skates pretty well.”

Her little girl could grow up to be a competitor in the Black Ice tournament, too, someday.

“So far, it looks like it,” Mayland said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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