Downtown: Black Ice tourney focuses on the tykes 

  • Concord’s Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament kicked off Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, and continues through the weekend at White Park. (NICK STOICO / Monitor staff) NICK STOICO / Monitor file

  • The scene at the Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament at White Park at last year’s event. This year’s tourney is set to feature mite-level skaters honing their skills on the open-air rink. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Concord’s Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament kicked off Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, and continues through the weekend at White Park. NICK STOICO / Monitor file

  • Concord High School freshman Casey Ingraham (right) keeps warm by the bonfire with her friend Abby Sawyer at the Black Ice tournament Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Concord’s Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament last year at White Park. NICK STOICO / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Monday, January 22, 2018

You’ve felt it in your bones for weeks: Black Ice is upon us.

The 1883 Black Ice Pond Hockey Championships, now in its eighth year, has not so much crept into Concord – unlike the icy cold we’ve been experiencing – but bloomed in all the usual places. Anyone walking through downtown has surely noticed the blue banners rippling on the light posts and strung across the North Main/Centre streets intersection and the posters in partnering businesses’ windows.

And this week, the tournament will be encouraging a different kind of growth, Black Ice board Chairman Chris Brown said. Specifically, a bunch of mites will be on their own sheet of ice, honing their skills and hopefully developing into the next generation of puck lovers with their roots in hometown hockey.

If the word “mites” has you picturing a new breed of arctic insect invading your snow boots, don’t worry – “mites” is an age group of youth hockey, said Jeff Cain, house league coordinator for Concord Youth Hockey and coach of the Dynomites practice team. Mites are about 5 or 6 years old, and on Saturday, they and other members of Concord Youth Hockey will get their own “shinny” tournament. Thursday and Friday will also feature skating nights for youth members.

Brown said supporting youth sports has always been part of Black Ice’s mission. The board makes a point of encouraging local sports teams, not just hockey teams, to come down and volunteer, and offers fundraising opportunities for booster clubs. But it wasn’t until this year that the board was able to focus on integrating children into the actual tournament.

“The first seven years, getting kids to come down and play was an afterthought,” he said, noting that previous years have been hampered by last-minute warm weather conditions. “This year we took a risk and said, ‘Let’s just plan on it, and if we don’t have the ice, we don’t have the ice.’ ”

It’s all in good fun, Cain said. “This weekend is really about getting into the hockey culture and introducing them to playing outside,” he said. “Some of them probably never have skated outside; and you know, 34 years ago, when I was coming up, that’s how everyone learned.”

Cain, like many others involved in Concord’s hockey scene, grew up skating at White Park. He said the Black Ice experience will prove valuable to the city’s littlest skaters.

“Skating on an indoor rink is probably better for skill development, because the ice is always perfect and smooth, with no cracks,” he said. “On the pond, that’s where you learn your most basic skating skills. ... You’re constantly working on your balance. It forces you to work on your skating.”

Like Cain, Brown’s skating history is rooted in White Park. And in those wobbly-kneed mite players, he sees Black Ice’s future.

“We’re hoping to plant the seed that creates the next generation of people who maybe someday want to take this over,” Brown said.

If they do take it over, they’ll be following in the footsteps of many of this weekend’s participants. Brown said the tournament has 98 adult teams lined up ranging from ages 18 to 50-plus, with 20 more teams on the waitlist. He said about half of those teams have some sort of connection to Concord.

“We’re starting to call it a pond hockey festival,” Brown said, noting Black Ice’s integration of live music and entertainment. “But it’s also like an Old Home Day for Concord.”

For more information on the tournament, visit blackicepondhockey.com.

Ground control

The city of Concord recently bought 106 acres of undeveloped forest land off Lakeview Drive and West Parish Road that it plans to put into conservation.

The purchase, previously the site of a historical agricultural operation owned by the Haller family, was financed in part by a grant from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, according to a city newsletter. The grant covered half the cost of the $600,000 purchase price; the remaining amount was funded by the city’s Conservation Trust Fund.

The acquisition adds to an existing block of conservation land in the area totaling nearly 900 acres, according to the newsletter.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)