Threat of snow, cold can’t keep Black Ice hockey fans away

  • Teams compete at the Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School freshman Casey Ingrahan (right) keeps warm by the bonfire with her friend, Abby Sawyer, at the Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship at White Park in Concord on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Hockey players fight for the puck during the Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship at White Park in Concord on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • ‘Bama,’ short for Alabama tries out her new paw booties in front of the bonfire at the Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The scene at the Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship at White Park on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/11/2017 11:45:10 PM

Hockey lovers near and far woke up bright and early to settle old rivalries and make new friends during the Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship. The tourney kicked off about 8 a.m. Friday and has continued to start around then during the weekend, giving fans and players up to 12 hours each day to skate, cheer and take in some live music before turning in.

But for city employees tasked with making sure the ice is play-ready, the Black Ice excitement has started at about 5 a.m. for the past couple weeks – and during the championship, it doesn’t end until 11 p.m., if they’re lucky.

Tom Wright doesn’t have a problem with the long days. He’s been with Concord’s park and recreation department for 39 years, and he’s worked every Black Ice tourney since its initial puck drop seven years ago.

He and his crew were up in the early hours and didn’t leave White Park until 11 p.m. Friday, sweeping the ice clean and flooding it with water from fire hoses. He anticipated he would be out late Saturday night, too. He’ll be up at 5 a.m. again Sunday, to make sure everything’s shipshape, and to battle the snow that caused organizers to push the schedules for the semifinals and finals by an hour.

A slippery situation

The ice took a little extra time this year, and the event had to be postponed two weeks due to a stretch of warm weather and rain, according to Black Ice board of director’s chairman Chris Brown.

“It wasn’t going to be a good site,” he said. “It’s a good thing we waited, because it was a total mush pit.”

He later added: “It’s like we’ve seen the extremes, because last year we had to play boot hockey on Saturday, because the weather was so warm. Now we’ve got good ice, and the play is good, but we might be down some spectators due to the cold. You just have to take what Mother Nature gives you.”

There’s other aspects that make Black Ice a good fan experience, like a tent with clear panels allowing spectators to escape the chill while enjoying live music and concessions. But the ice is what it’s all about, Brown said. “You’ll see us running around shoveling and fixing cracks to make it good ice; other tourney’s you get what you get,” he said.

Giving the players the best experience they could get also meant bringing in new fiberglass dividers, which Brown said brings a different feel than the games played with wooden boards.

“The wood allows the puck to bounce, while these actually deaden it a bit,” Brown said. “In a way, fiberglass makes the rink bigger, because you actually have to chase after it.”

Clearly, the effort draws results: the tourney has grown from 45 teams seven years ago to 95 teams this year, with 25 additional teams on a waiting list, Brown said. And they come from all corners of the country, with players hailing everywhere from Alaska to Texas, although he noted most players have a connection to Concord.

An icy record

It’s fitting, considering the Capital City’s history with hockey: the first organized game ever played in the United States was on St. Paul’s School’s pond, less than 10 miles from where the Black Ice tourney takes place, according to the Black Ice’s website. The city has also produced a number of notable hockey players, from Olympians Douglas Everett – for which the city’s indoor rink is named – and Tara Mounsey, to several New Hampshire Legends of Hockey Hall of Fame recipients.

For Wright, the tourney is like a high school reunion. He’s a Concord lifer, and grew up on West Street with three brothers and two sisters who either attended Concord High School or Bishop Brady High School. Now, as he was tending the ice and feeding massive logs to a bonfire, he sees players he used to watch in high school either enjoying or playing a game.

Wright’s a pretty big hockey fan himself. He played a bit when he was young, and enjoys the chance now to participate in the tournament from a building standpoint. You’d have to be at work for over 12 hours and still be cheerful.

“It’s a great idea, and people from the community love to come out and see it,” he said.

Kris Bucyk has lived in the Concord area since last fall with his girlfriend Erin Magoon, but their love of hockey brought them out despite the cold.

“We’re both big hockey fans but it isn’t very common that we get to see a game in person,” Bucyk said. “I come from a hockey family and seeing all of the rinks lined up together and everyone skating on the outdoor ice brought me back to the days when I used to play organized hockey myself. It was pretty nostalgic.”

For Magoon, the scene brought back memories of sledding in White Park when she was young. She’s considering getting a team together next year after seeing all the friendly competition.

Both agreed, however, that the cold kept them from staying too long.

“We underestimated how cold it was and couldn’t stick it out any longer than that. We thought it was great they had fires going so people could warm up,” Magoon said.

But even when the skates are put away and the hockey lovers are warm in their beds, Wright and his team won’t be going home: they’ll turn their attention to battling the incoming storm, clearing the roads and making sure the roads don’t turn into ice rinks themselves.

“There’s a lot of us, volunteers too, who work so hard to make it happen,” he said. “They’re ready to drop by the end of the night.”

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