Black Ice delay better in the long run, official says

  • Tim Donlon of Concord skates with his hockey stick on the White Park pond Saturday. The annual 1883 Black Ice Pond Hockey Tournament was scheduled start Friday, but was postponed due to rain and recent warm temperatures. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • The tree line is seen reflected in a pool of melted ice on the end of the pond at White Park in Concord on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • With the tree line seen reflected in a pool of melted ice, Sarah Leuci, 11, of Concord skates at White Park in Concord on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Saturday, January 27, 2018

Anyone driving by White Park on Saturday morning might have been confused to see the masses of skaters on the ice.

Chris Brown, chairman of the annual 1883 Black Ice Pond Hockey Tournament, was not. After being closed for a few days during the week due to a dreary bout of rain and warm weather, all of Concord’s outdoor skating rinks were back open for the weekend. And the day promised to be beautiful, with bright, sunny skies and temperatures in the high 20s by 11 a.m.

But Brown knows what that beautiful weather does to the ice, and by 2 p.m. – with temps in the low 40s and climbing – you could see the effects: standing water, and soft, almost sticky ice. On radar, the threat of rain showers starting Saturday night into Sunday morning loomed.

From a pond hockey perspective, it’s a perfect reason to postpone the Black Ice tournament, Brown said.

“If you can’t even look at potentially finishing the tournament, you shouldn’t move forward with it,” he said. “People spend a lot of money to put up a team. You can’t be playing boot hockey too many times, or people start losing faith.”

It costs $700 to enter a team into the tournament, Brown said, and one of the things that Black Ice prides itself on is the quality of White Park’s ice.

“If it’s 36 degrees and overcast, that can work,” he said, noting the warm weather wouldn’t have been enough to melt away the foot-deep layer of ice on White Park’s pond. “But once you reach sunny and 38, that top layer turns into a snowcone. ... We’re not the largest pond hockey tournament, but we feel its the best for its accommodations, for having great ice. That’s why people keep coming back. ”

Boot hockey, if you didn’t know, is almost the same sport as ice hockey, but without the speed and grace ice skates lend to the sport. Black Ice participants two years ago were given the option of continuing play via boot hockey, Brown said. Some people chose to do so, but semi-finals and final games had to be played indoors at the Douglas N. Everett Arena.

It’s not just players who would miss out if Black Ice continued this weekend. Bad ice can mean no games at all, and no games means no one buying food at the food trucks or hanging out during live performances, Brown said. So he’s happy with his decision.

“Of the 98 teams we had scheduled this week, we’ve got about 96 now,” he said. “A lot of them have been on the waiting list for a couple of years, so they’re excited to get a chance to play in two weeks.”

This is the fourth time Black Ice has been delayed due to warm weather. The event was pushed back two weeks last year but otherwise carried on per usual; 2016 was the year of boot hockey. A two-week delay in 2012 still resulted in several games being canceled due to slushy ice.

Historically, Black Ice weekend weather has been all over the place. The weather hovered around – and sometimes dipped below – zero degrees during the 2013 and 2014 tournaments. In contrast, the temperature never went below 10 degrees, but often hung in the 30s, 40s and even once the 50s during the 2012, 2015 and 2016 events.

And skaters on White Park were just as happy to enjoy the Saturday afternoon sunshine.

“It’s really soft,” said Tim Donlon, who was making wide turns on the pond, hockey stick in hand. A lifelong-skater, he could see why Black Ice needed to be postponed. “I think it would have gotten really beat up. ... The way they set up, they’ve got people going 24/7, it would have gotten really chunky.”

Terry Cotton and Michelle Leuci had it made in the sun. See, Cotton was supposed to be playing in the tournament this weekend with his team, the Desperadoes.

But, facing a delay, Cotton and a group of friends, decided to head to the pond anyway. Armed with soft drinks, a charcoal grill, hot dogs and potato chips, they were content to hang out on the shore and watch their kids race around the pond.

“We’ve been here since 9 this morning, so we’re probably going to start wrapping it up,” he said. “This pond is one of the great quality of life things about Concord. We come down here fairly often.”

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