The Black Ice Tournament moves inside again, but the tradition remains

The Transformers during the 2022 Black Ice Pond Hockey Tournament at White Park in Concord. From left to right: Charlie Kickham, Sean Wachter, Ben Richards, Chris Moultrip, Jeff Labrecque, Ben Russo and Shawnn Vaillant.

The Transformers during the 2022 Black Ice Pond Hockey Tournament at White Park in Concord. From left to right: Charlie Kickham, Sean Wachter, Ben Richards, Chris Moultrip, Jeff Labrecque, Ben Russo and Shawnn Vaillant. —Courtesy

The Goons pose for a photo at a previous Black Ice Tournament at White Park in Concord. Top row, left to right: Nate Pearson, Bryan Lodi, Jon Connor and Marshall Caldon. Bottom row, left to right: Mike Bradley, Paul Kiernan and Dave Brenner.

The Goons pose for a photo at a previous Black Ice Tournament at White Park in Concord. Top row, left to right: Nate Pearson, Bryan Lodi, Jon Connor and Marshall Caldon. Bottom row, left to right: Mike Bradley, Paul Kiernan and Dave Brenner. —Courtesy

Players from Stars team and the White Park Hockey Club battle it out at the Tri-Town Arena on Friday, March 22, 2024. White Park won the first round game at the Black Ice Tournament.

Players from Stars team and the White Park Hockey Club battle it out at the Tri-Town Arena on Friday, March 22, 2024. White Park won the first round game at the Black Ice Tournament. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Players check in to the Black Ice Hockey Tournament at the Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett on Friday, March 22, 2024.

Players check in to the Black Ice Hockey Tournament at the Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett on Friday, March 22, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Players exchange their sticks for shovels as they clean up the rink in between games at the Black Ice Tournament at Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett on Friday, March 22, 2024.

Players exchange their sticks for shovels as they clean up the rink in between games at the Black Ice Tournament at Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett on Friday, March 22, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Players enter the Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett for the Black Ice Tournament on Friday, March 22, 2024. This is the first year the tournament at Tri-Town after one year at Everett Arena in Concord, and years at White Park.

Players enter the Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett for the Black Ice Tournament on Friday, March 22, 2024. This is the first year the tournament at Tri-Town after one year at Everett Arena in Concord, and years at White Park. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

A puck flies during a morning game at the Black Ice Hockey Tournament at the Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett on Friday, March 22, 2024.

A puck flies during a morning game at the Black Ice Hockey Tournament at the Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett on Friday, March 22, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

The hockey rink at Tri-Town Arena is split into three hockey areas for the Black Ice Hockey Tournament on Friday, March 22, 2024.

The hockey rink at Tri-Town Arena is split into three hockey areas for the Black Ice Hockey Tournament on Friday, March 22, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 03-22-2024 12:45 PM

There’s something cinematic about the Black Ice Tournament at White Park in the middle of the Concord winter.

Hockey skates slice across the ice, friends of years past reunite and the community gathers to enjoy hockey, the cold weather and all downtown Concord has to offer.

If they’re lucky, snow adds even more to the ambiance.

“The atmosphere at White Park is pretty electric on a Friday afternoon when the kids get out of school and you’ve got a bunch of people there just watching and walking around,” said Shawnn Vaillant, who’s playing in his sixth Black Ice Tournament this weekend. “One year it was snowing a little, so you get the true elements of playing outdoors. It’s a sponge. It just brings people in.”

David Brenner, also playing in his sixth tournament, underscored the same theme.

“When you play outside, you’re in front of family, you’re in front of friends. It becomes that kind of community event,” he said. “It’s not just you’re playing in a men’s league and there are two fans there. It’s nice just to have people around watching and be a part of that. It’s a really cool experience.”

But in the time Vaillant and Brenner have participated in the event, the outdoors component has become more difficult. Last year, the tournament was held at Everett Arena in Concord. This year, it’s taking place this Friday through Sunday at Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett, a far cry from the pond hockey rinks at White Park in the middle of winter.

The temperatures have simply been too warm to freeze the pond for the length of time necessary to be safely skated on.

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Originally scheduled for Jan. 26 through 28, the tournament had been pushed back after a forecast warm stretch to Feb. 9 through 11 to hold out hope the event could take place outdoors. When that plan fell through, the Black Ice Pond Hockey organization had no choice but to pivot indoors yet again. Last year was the first time in the history of the tournament, which began 13 years ago, that it was held entirely indoors.

Moving this year’s event to Tri-Town Arena has its positives and negatives. On the plus side, all teams that registered to participate will still be able to play because the arena has two sheets of ice; last year at Everett Arena, only 55 of roughly 80 teams were able to play. But, the arena is also 15 minutes south of downtown Concord, even further from the restaurants and local businesses that see increased traffic when the event is at White Park.

At some point, though, there are only so many options to pull the tournament off. And, as Brenner framed it, having it in Hooksett reflects the continued growth of the hockey community in the general region.

“I think this overall community has probably expanded a little bit,” he said. “They make up a lot of those teams within the tournament itself, so just because it’s not in the center of town in Concord doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t entirely part of the tradition in the community and the sport of hockey in the central part of New Hampshire.”

The biggest difference between playing inside instead of outside, beyond the more controlled temperatures, is the smoothness of the ice, with the indoor rink far smoother and less prone to random bounces of the puck.

“I think for some of those less-skilled teams that rely more on the natural elements of the ice, maybe you get a bounce your way more often versus when you’re inside, the ice is much better,” Brenner said, “so those skill guys are going to be able to take advantage of that more so than if you’re outside.”

Brenner’s team, the Goons, competes in one of the men’s 35+ divisions. Vaillant’s Transformers, meanwhile, compete in one of the Coed 18+ rec divisions.

At the end of the day for Vaillant and his crew, whether they’re playing inside or outside, it’s about having fun and — most importantly — being able to walk into work on Monday morning without being too banged up.

“Our competitive spirit’s there,” he said, “but it’s not to the point where you go out and potentially get hurt.”