The first organized hockey game in the United States was purportedly played in 1883 on the Lower School Pond at St. Paul’s School in Concord.
While some may dispute that claim, there’s no arguing that strapping on the skates and passing the puck around the pond has long been a New Hampshire tradition.
Pond hockey tournaments, including the Youth Pond Hockey Festival (YPHF) slated for this weekend in Madison, celebrate that tradition — and the simple pleasure of the sport and its roots.
“There is no better thing than being on ice, outdoors. There is a feeling of freedom that comes with it,” said Amy Mahoney, who helps orchestrate the YPHF, now in its third year on Purity Lake at Purity Springs Resort. “Kids and adults love playing on ponds.”
Organized in 2016, the YPHF has grown significantly, from 24 teams and 150 players skating on five rinks in its inaugural year to 60 teams, close to 500 players, and 12 rinks in play for this weekend’s festival. Proceeds from the festival — some $120,000 over its first three years — go directly to the Laura Foundation, a local non-profit that provides year-round recreational opportunities to children with cognitive and physical disabilities.
“Since 2008, we’ve built an adaptive sports and recreation center, begun programs which are now year-round, and figured out ways to fund the programs,” said Mahoney, who is executive director of the foundation named for her late mother-in-law. “We pay for everything through grants, donations, and fundraisers, and the Youth Pond Hockey Festival is our biggest fundraiser.”
(For information about the Laura Foundation, visit www.thelaurafoundation.org.)
Kids in the YPHF range from under 8 to 12 years old, come mainly from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and seem to bask in the freedom and challenge of playing hockey outside.
“They love it. There’s some novelty to it,” said Darron Laughland, who coaches with the Mount Washington Valley Youth Hockey Association and has two sons playing in the YPHF.
Laughland notes most young hockey players spend almost all their skating time at Zamboni-served indoor arenas. The YPHF’s games on less-than-perfect ice introduce new challenges.
“You have cracks and lumps in the ice, and any damage to the ice surface from the kids skating on it stays there,” he said. “I think that actually makes the kids better skaters. They’re constantly making adjustments. The puck might be jumping and bobbling around, so you have to up your game.”
Beyond the benefits of playing outside and having a local tournament to join, Laughland loves the connection to the Laura Foundation: “As a special-ed teacher, I see some really positive benefits from the work of the Laura Foundation. Having this really cool opportunity for my players and seeing that this is a straight fundraising event, it feels like a win-win to me.”
Spectators are welcome to attend the YPHF. For a schedule of events and more information, visit www.youthpondhockeyfestival.com.
The inspiration behind the YPHF came in large part from another New Hampshire tournament, the New England Pond Hockey Classic, held each year since 2010 on Lake Winnipesaukee. Laura Foundation board member Tobin Kelly and his brother Devin have played in that tournament and thought a similar event for kids would be a hit. They now work with Mahoney to organize the YPHF.
This year’s New England Pond Hockey Classic Tournament — with more than 200 teams from around New England and as far away as Michigan, North Carolina, and Poland — is scheduled for Feb. 2-4 in Meredith. For more information visit www.pondhockeyclassic.com/newengland.
The 8th annual Black Ice Pond Hockey Tournament at Concord’s White Park, originally slated to be played this weekend, has been rescheduled to Feb. 8-11. The Black Ice tournament pays tribute to Concord’s deep hockey history, with proceeds going toward the city’s Parks & Recreation Department to expand local ice skating opportunities. For more information visit www.blackicepondhockey.com.
Winter Notes is published on Fridays during ski season. Contact Meghan McCarthy McPhaul at firstname.lastname@example.org.