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New Hampshire's Black Ice Pond Hockey Championships Honor Local History

The wind whipped and the temperatures approached single digits, but that didn't stop thousands of fans and hundreds of hockey players from amassing in Concord, New Hampshire on the last weekend of January.  

The 1883 Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament recently wrapped up its ninth annual event. With the first two days of the tournament cancelled because of conditions, tons of games were packed into Saturday and Sunday. Ninety-five teams formed nine different conferences, with each one crowning a champion late in the afternoon on the 27th.

Besides being New Hampshire’s capital city, Concord is also known as the birthplace of American hockey. The tournament is located at White’s Park, just two miles away from St. Paul’s School, where the first hockey games were played in the U.S. back in the 1870s. 

“A lot of pond hockey tournaments had been starting up, so we said, ‘Why not Concord?’" explained Chris Brown, a member of the Black Ice Pond Hockey Association. "It has such a rich history with hockey, with St. Paul’s school, so it was quite a connection to historical hockey.”

The event honors Hobey Baker, the most renowned athlete to ever attend St. Paul’s, and the namesake of hockey's answer to the Heisman Trophy. Baker would spend several nights every week at nearby frozen ponds with the intention of improving his ability to move the puck while not looking down at the ice. Baker wasn’t just a good hockey player, though. He was a powerful swimmer, a capable golfer, and school record-holder for cross-country. At 14, Baker was selected to the varsity hockey team, and a year later was awarded the Gordon Medal, given to the school’s best all-around athlete.

Baker went to Princeton, where he played football and hockey. After college, Baker served as a fighter pilot in World War I. He died as a result of a plane crash shortly after the war ended. Attending the tournament were several people who have been involved in Black Ice Pond Hockey’s connection with Hober Baker, including an author of a book that looked at Hobey Baker’s young life.

Mark Ruddy, hockey player and artist, created a unique award for the Black Pond tournament that honors Baker's legacy. When a team wins a championship for their conference, they are given a “Hobey Stick” rather than a traditional trophy. 

“I was thrilled to be able to contribute my skills to the project," Ruddy said. "I researched the hockey history books and found a photo of a hand-lettered hockey stick that was presented to the Winnipeg Victorias after they had won the Stanley Cup in 1899. The stick was beaten up from use and the lettering wasn't perfect. It had a patina of age to it. It was perfect.”

Richard “Hunk” O’Connell also attended this year’s event. O’Connell played on the last St. Paul’s School team before the school took a ten year hiatus from hockey starting in 1951 because they had no rink to play in. Hunk later would find himself playing for the Concord Shamrocks, an outdoor team, and was the first person in New Hampshire to ever wear a goalie mask.

“All the big goalies were coming out with masks, so I said maybe I could do that, and make a mask myself," O'Connell said. "So, I said to my mother, ‘Hey, make me up a batch of pie dough.’ I put my face down in it and made a print of my face. I took it out and then I made a plaster of Paris for the mask. Then, I took that apart and took a sheet of epoxy and put on about six or seven layers. Then, I cut out [holes for] my eyes and my mouth and put strap mounts on it. It turned out real good; it never broke.”

From rich history to the excitement of a unique hockey tournament, Black Ice Pond Hockey truly has it all.

(Photo credit: NH Sports Photography)