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Bonds of ice: Pond hockey tournament shows how game ties families, community

  • Derek Davidson of Bethlehem plays the bagpipes as the players file on to the ice at the opening ceremony of The Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament at White Park in Concord; Friday morning, January 25, 2012.<br/>SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff

    Derek Davidson of Bethlehem plays the bagpipes as the players file on to the ice at the opening ceremony of The Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament at White Park in Concord; Friday morning, January 25, 2012.
    SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • The Turkey Pond Flyers battle the Blackhawks in the first game of the Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament at White Park in Concord; Friday morning, January 25, 2012.<br/>SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff

    The Turkey Pond Flyers battle the Blackhawks in the first game of the Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament at White Park in Concord; Friday morning, January 25, 2012.
    SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Derek Davidson of Bethlehem plays the bagpipes as the players file on to the ice at the opening ceremony of The Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament at White Park in Concord; Friday morning, January 25, 2012.<br/>SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff
  • The Turkey Pond Flyers battle the Blackhawks in the first game of the Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament at White Park in Concord; Friday morning, January 25, 2012.<br/>SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff

Michelle Arndt flew more than a thousand miles this week to strap on snow boots, zip up a full-body jacket, swaddle her head in a scarf and stand outside in single-digit temperatures for hours cheering on her husband, Bob, on his path to potential greatness.

Like several of her fellow chapped-lipped, flush-cheeked spectators who gathered yesterday morning at White Park for the kickoff of the third annual 1883 Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship, the Minnesota native’s attraction to hockey is not simply recreational – it’s also familial. Bob’s brother Steve lives in Concord, and the two have kept in touch over the years, partly by playing the sport together. Last week Steve and his wife, Kim, flew to Minnesota for a pond tournament in which the brothers competed; this week it was Bob and Michelle’s turn to return the favor.

And the bloodline doesn’t stop there: Kim and Steve’s adult son and young grandson are each taking part in the three-day event, which has in its brief existence morphed into a symbol for Concord’s deep connection to family and sport.

“That’s what’s so cool about this,” said Kim, as she and

Michelle huddled over a bin fire next to one of the eight rinks constructed for the three-day tournament. “I have a 62-year-old husband in the tournament, a 37- or 38- (I can never remember) year-old son and a 5-year-old grandson who will be playing later this afternoon. There are a gazillion stories like ours out here today. You know these people, you see them around, your kids play together.”

Since its beginning in 2010, the Black Ice tournament has focused as much on local stories and personal connections formed by hockey as the game itself.

Gregg Fournier, one of the organizers of the event, knows that well. As a child, he said, his father and he used to walk to White Park and sit on a hill there to watch the Concord High School hockey team play. When he was older, Fournier and a handful of friends used to play on the pond after school. “We were up here every day, usually until six or seven at night,” he said. “We used to close down this park.”

Now a “retired” recreational player, Fournier, who works in construction, manages the setup and maintenance of the rinks. He said the tournament, which has swelled from last year’s 64 teams to this year’s 85, was no easy feat to pull off.

“We were out here from 9 a.m. to about probably 3 p.m. setting up,” Fournier said. “It was really windy, but we have a great crew; more than a hundred volunteers who helped put this all together.”

Pond hockey, for anyone unfamiliar, is basically hockey stripped of most of its rules. As the game is played at the Black Ice tournament, there are two 15-minute periods, four players on each team, no goalies, no slap-shots and no direct hitting allowed.

“A lot of pond hockey is just about stick handling and finesse,” said Sam Chase, an algebra teacher who was playing for his first time in the tournament.

Chase said he grew up in Concord and used to play pick-up games at the park when he was kid. He played for his high school’s team and has played on an adult recreation league for years. “Now I’m on the old man team in Laconia,” he said. “And you know what? It’s still a blast. In high school I used to love the hitting and roughing stuff, but now it’s more about passing and playing smart. For me, pond hockey is really where the fresh air and the joy of the sport comes into play.”

Not every hockey player at the park yesterday came to skate. Bronson Taylor, a 6-year-old who plays in a youth league in Belmont and who described his favorite part of hockey as “shooting and stuff,” rode down with his dad and older brother to catch a few games.

By midday and with two rounds in the books, Chris Brown, the lead organizer of the event and a player on the Concord Budmen, a 35-and-older team, said as far as he could tell, things were running remarkably smoothly.

“The weather is good and the ice is nice and hard,” he said.

The chilly temperatures – as of 9:30 a.m. the thermostat was hovering at 3 degrees Fahrenheit – were a welcome attribute to this year’s festivities, Brown said. Last year organizers nearly cancelled the tournament due to unusually warm conditions.

“This year, the conditions are very frigid and very much winter,” he said. “Which is great because it helps us maintain the ice and fill in cracks as the games go on.”

Other than the tournament’s expanded size, players and spectators should not expect much different this year, Brown said. There are still vendors selling merchandise and food. There are still shuttles for people who want to head to restaurants and bars downtown. There was still an afternoon bonfire yesterday afternoon and a fireworks show last night. And 50 percent of the proceeds from team registration will still go to the community’s coffers.

“At least for the near future, we’re going to keep this thing the way it’s been,” Brown said. “We don’t want to lose focus of what this is all about, which is expanding ice skating opportunities for everyone here in Concord.”

Tom Painchard, a Black Ice association committee member, sounded a similar note. “Our big hope is just for everyone to have a good time,” he said. “Just getting people out on the pond and playing pond hockey in the truest spirit, where players have to get creative, where there are no referees, where the clock keeps ticking so you can’t waste a lot of time, where the guys stick around and clean the ice after their games – where everyone pitches in.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319 or jblackman@cmonitor.com.)

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