Duckler: For these two, hockey continues to be a way of life

  • Ryan Brandt (right) shows his infamous elbow move against fellow senior skater Steve Arndt at White Park on Thursday in Concord. Brandt, 68, and Arndt, who wi€™ll be 67 on Sunday, play hockey at the highest level in their age bracket. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Ryan Brandt, right, shows his infamous elbow move against fellow senior skater Steve Arndt at White Park Thursday.Brandt, 68, and Arndt, who’ll be 67 on Sunday, play hockey at the highest level in their age bracket, and they’ll drop their gloves and slug it out with Father Time if he tries to stop them. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/9/2017 11:45:15 PM

Maybe Father Time is the one who should retire.

He couldn’t sack Tom Brady last Sunday. And he has no chance of sending Steve Arndt and Ryan Brandt to the penalty box this weekend, either.

Instead, Arndt and Brandt will play in the Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship today through Sunday at White Park. They’ll play in a national tournament in April and defend their title. They’ll skate in pick-up games through the winter, at Everett Arena and St. Paul’s School.

They’ll play hockey, think hockey, eat and sleep hockey, because that’s what they’ve been doing since the 1950s.

Brandt, 68, and Arndt, who’ll be 67 on Sunday, play hockey at the highest level in their age bracket, and they’ll drop their gloves and slug it out with Father Time if he tries to stop them.

“I feel gloriously tested,” Arndt told me, when asked how he feels the morning after he plays. “I love feeling like I’m under construction. A good whack that throws you out of the rink is not necessarily a bad thing. It connects you with the old days, and we’re all competing seriously in the Black Ice. It means something to everyone, and what an enormous gift it is to have.”

They’ll play in the over-50 division, the oldest age grouping offered, this weekend. They compete together in the over-65 bracket in the USA National Championships and have created a Patriots-like dynasty.

As Arndt noted, “It seems like Ryan and I have been the oldest players on the team we’re playing on. And yet we were the oldest when we were in our late 30s and early 40s.”

Arndt and Brandt have more in common than a fountain of youth and a silent “D” in their last names. Their names, in fact, belong together like Brady and Belichick.

They were both born and raised in hockey-crazed Minnesota. They both moved here and played hockey at the state’s two Division I college programs, Brandt at the University of New Hampshire, Class of 1970, Arndt at Dartmouth College, Class of ’72.

They both married and raised their families here. They both were on the ground floor of semipro hockey in the area in the 1970s and ’80s, for the Eastern Olympics, the Tri-City Coachmen and the Budmen, packing Everett Arena on Friday nights and Manchester’s JFK Memorial Coliseum on Saturday nights, in blood-and-guts hockey that resembled the movie Slap Shot.

They both played in the adult Capital City Hockey League. They both coached and refereed and helped direct Concord Youth Hockey.

They both compete at the USA National Championships each spring in Florida. They’ve both been inducted into the state’s Legends of Hockey Hall of Fame. They both play in the Black Ice event.

And they respect each other’s skills on the ice.

“Steve is more enthusiastic about the games than I am,” Brandt said. “He’s unbelievable. In our Wednesday and Sunday groups, I skate against him and I like it because he forces me to pick my level up and play more intense. He’s maybe a little more passionate. He might not say that, but I will say it. He’s great to play with, and he’s great to play against.”

Said Arndt, “I can tell you Ryan Brandt is one heck of a player. He is one of the craftiest players I’ve ever played with, and I always tell him he’s my number one draft choice if I have anything to say about it. I play on teams with him every chance I get.”

They began apart, yet in the same state, Arndt in St. Paul, Minn., Brandt in a tiny town called Roseau, about 6 ½ hours away. They were born into a culture of hockey, with sticks and pucks and skates and ponds.

“In my family,” Brandt said, “you were expected to play hockey.”

His three brothers played big-time college hockey. He did as well, at the University of New Hampshire, scoring 33 career goals. Arndt attended Dartmouth College, and his daughter, Jaime, was a trailblazer for girls’ high school hockey in the 1990s.

The list goes on, all connected to hockey, all connected to each other, all leading to this weekend. But this is where the two men differed somewhat. Brandt was happy to talk about the bond here, and about playing as 70 looms on the horizon.

Not Arndt, and Brandt warned me about this, about Arndt’s concern with commanding too much of the spotlight.

Arndt worried immediately that his story would take away from the story, the one about an annual event, its seventh installment, that’s an all-volunteer effort. Leftover money goes to youth sports in the Concord area. A big tent serves as a makeshift locker room, allowing friendships and alliances from Concord High and Bishop Brady High and St. Paul’s School to reunite and remember.

Concord is rich in tradition, hockey tradition, and the Black Ice event was the perfect forum to show this.

“There are people I played with when I was younger, people I’m paying with currently, people that used to play and because of injuries they’re not playing anymore,” Arndt told me. “But we all work with various hats on at different times of the year, doing different things, working during the summer and fall to get things ready.

“I don’t want to be someone who is promoted as anyone better than anyone else.”

Then I threw this at Arndt, trying to show him why this angle, I thought, was a good one.

“Steve, name another player who’s pushing 70, who’s really good and who lives in Concord, and I’ll call them and leave you alone.”

Arndt laughed.

There is no one else, just him and his old buddy. In April the dynamic duo will return to Tampa, Fla., for the USA National Championships. Our boys’ team has won two straight over-65 titles, after winning five consecutive over-60 national championships.

I asked Brandt what his wife thinks of this annual trip. “She rolls her eyes,” he told me, laughing.

Arndt mentioned that their team, made up of players from Minnesota, Alaska and Massachusetts, is not there to sip fruity drinks on the beach.

“We don’t go down there for vacation,” Arndt told me. “It’s all business in the locker room. It’s like turning the clock back to when you were in the best college hockey games you could play.”

For these two, the clock moves back again, starting today at White Park. It moves back in Florida, at Everett Arena, at St. Paul’s School, even in Arndt’s backyard, where he maintains his own rink, open to anyone who loves the sport.

Father Time, though, is not welcome.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” Arndt said. “I think about it often. Who knew that hockey would be a lifelong sport?”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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