Holiday hockey tournament at Conway Arena goes dark

Staff file photo by TOM KING Members of the 2016-17 Nashua South-Pelham hockey team celebrate their Conway Arena Hockey Tourney title two years ago. Nashua AD Lisa Gingras, along with arena officials, pulled the plug on the event due to alleged lack of interest and difficulty in securing teams.

What had become a 13-year holiday tradition will not be around this season.

The Conway Arena Holiday Hockey Tournament, which has been played since 2005 is done – at least for this year. Nashua athletic director Lisa Gingras told The Telegraph she made the decision, along with officials from Conway Arena, about two weeks ago. Instead, the district’s two co-op teams, South-Pelham and North-Souhegan, will play in a tournament in Keene. Ironically, Keene won the 13th annual Conway Tourney title last December.

“It was a mutual decision,” Gingras said, referring to the schools and the rink. “There just didn’t seem to be the same interest, with the co-op teams. It’s (the co-ops) not the big reason, but it’s slowly over the last several years been diminishing in terms of excitement, attention. It’s a struggle every year to get teams to come. In talking with the Arena, we just made the decision not to do it.”

Will it ever return?

“I can’t answer that for you,” Gingras said. “I’ll miss it. Any time you can host a tournament like that it’s great. But you need the teams, the enthusiasm, the excitement to make it worthwhile.”

Gingras said there were no other teams committed at the time of the decision. One school, Alvirne (with Milford as a co-op partner) had inquired about it.

“I spoke to Alvirne the other day, and Karen Bonney had been also looking into doing something (looking for a holiday tourney to play in) as well.”

The tournament did have its regulars besides the North and South co-op teams. Routinely Alvirne, Hollis Brookline (except for one season when it didn’t play), and Coventry (R.I.) would take part. The event had a definite local flavor, and last year’s tourney field was one of its largest ever – eight teams. It included North-Souhegan, South-Pelham, Alvirne, Coventry, Merrimack, Pembroke-Campbell, Keene, and the Bedford “B” Team. South-Pelham has won the event twice in recent years, the last time two years ago, winning an all-Nashua final. Tourney finals were usually held mid-day, so attendance was sometimes sparse.

It made for a busy tournament week at Exit 5W, with the basketball boys and girls Chick-fil-A events at Nashua South just down Rivierside Drive from the arena. Now basketball will take center stage locally that week. The Chick-fil-A tourneys, according to the Nashua athletics calendar, will be Thursday Dec. 27 to Saturday, Dec. 29.

Great intentions

National Letter of Intent Season took place during the middle of this month with some notable Division I signings on the part of local athletes, as well as signings for other Divisions.

There were so many it’s near impossible to mention them all, but here are some of the

highlights:

Nashua North and South had a plethora of signings – five in a 24-hour period.

“It’s the most we’ve ever had, I think,” Gingras said of the fall signing period.

Highlights included South soccer standout Angie Suaza inking, as reported, her NLI for Providence College, and Ariana Braccio heading to Seton Hall to run women’s cross country.

Suaza, who had 19 goals during this past season and has generally been regarded as one of the state’s best players the last two years, got noticed by the Friar coaches at a college showcase tournament for her club team in Virginia last March. These days, major college coaches make a ton of their connections with high school athletes more at off-season competitions than high school seasons, it seems.

“When I came here, this is what I wanted, and I finally accomplished it,” Suaza said. “I’m really, really excited. I don’t even have words.”

What will the level be like for Suaza?

“It’s definitely going to be different, but another challenge,” she said. “I hope I do well.”

Panthers coach Tom Bellen says Suaza will adjust.

“She’s going to be playing with girls who are as good as she is,” he said. “Physical, strong, fast. But she’s technically as sound as all of those girls. I think she’s not going to be a big goal scorer in college, but she’s going to have a ton of assists. That’s my prediction.”

Meanwhile, Braccio for North should do well at Seton Hall, which was among several schools pursuing her since her sophomore year.

“She’s been pursued for a couple of years now,” North coach Renee Archer said. “She had a pretty successful sophomore campaign. I think from her sophomore year on she was getting a pretty big stream of letters. But she was pretty active herself in the college search. She put herself out there a lot. She gets all the credit for Seton Hall, she was awesome.”

And the Pirates, Archer said, are going to get a superb athlete who will thrive on being challenged.

“I think she’s going to do really well,” she said. “High school’s tough, because the season’s are so different and you have to sacrifice a lot for the good of the team. In a college environment, where she’ll be around kids who can really push her – she’s really been our star for almost four years, basically, and has basically been running by herself – but I think she’ll really thrive in an environment where she’s surrounded by kids who are at her talent level and she’s got someone to go hard with every day.”

Braccio’s sister had been recruited by the Pirates in the past, “so I wanted to go check them out.”

When she did, she discovered the Pirates coach John Moon is one of the most respected and successful college coaches in the country, so “I figured I’d be good there, I’d improve there.”

Braccio, who is going to major in biology, liked the Hall’s commitment to academics.

“I really liked how focused they were on academics,” she said. “Even as an athlete you have a required time that you have to study. … and I liked their facilities.”

One of the more interested signings were on the Division II level, with Nashua North’s Hannah Fortin and South’s Izzy Bolduc both signing with the University of Montevallo (Alabama), to play women’s lacrosse.

“When they were recruiting Izzy, they came and spent about four days here,” South coach Ciki McIntire said. “They watched our game over in Salem, and then had a conversation with me to see if there was anyone else in the area who might be a good fit down there.”

So McIntire mentioned a few, including Fortin. It may be the start of a trend, she said.

“They’re really building the programs down south,” McIntire said, “so they’re really recruiting heavily from the northeast to get some kids down there. It’s all about if kids are willing to go that far away.” Bolduc, McIntire, fell in love with the school and made her choice quickly.

Meanwhile, North had another lacrosse signing, with Kaylee Hubbard set to play in the spring of 2020 for Assumption College.

Also in girls lacrosse, there was a Division I signing, as Merrimack’s Amber Brewster will play next year for Iona University. There were a couple of Division I softball signings as well, with Alvirne’s Haley Peaslee heading to Wagner, and Merrimack’s Brenna Davenport set for UMass-Lowell next year.

Hitting the road, or at least the trails, Milford High’s Lauren Robinson will continue her cross country and track career at the Division I University of Alabama-Birmingham, which competes in Conference USA.

She signed her NLI in a ceremony at MHS recently.

Sacred Heart snared a couple of locals: Alvirne cross country/distance runner Jessica Fontaine and Merrimack’s Isabella Beaton. Also, Hollis Brookline’s Maddie Norris will be playing volleyball next fall at the University of North Florida, a Division I school in Jacksonville, while Cavaliers’ setter Kyra Belden has signed to play on scholarship at Division II Assumption.

Tough tests

Remember when Bishop Guertin had a lot of those tough out-of-state games on its girls basketball schedule? They’ll have them again this year, which should be very interesting.

“We’re loading up with some great out-of-state games again,” Cards coach Brad Krieck said. “They’re mostly weekend afternoon time slots so it should be really good for hoop fans locally to come see some of the region’s top talent.”

The Cards will face state champions from Massachusetts (Braintree on Monday, Jan. 21, home), Connecticut (Mercy HS, Saturday, Jan. 26), and New York (Jamesville-Dewitt, Saturday, Feb. 2) , as well as Bishop Feehan (Friday, Feb. 15, on the road).

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