Local hockey community needs to get its tourney back

‘Tis the day after Christmas, and all through the rink, not a high school hockey player was stirring, and that kind of makes you think:

Why?

For the first time in 14 years, there’s no Conway Arena Hockey Tournament for the holiday season in Nashua.

And that is a real shame.

Instead of the puck dropping for a few games all morning and afternoon, the Nashua High School North-Souhegan and South-Pelham teams, as well as Merrimack, are boarding their respective busses and treking off to Keene and its new arena, Keene ICE.

As if they’ve been naughty, not nice. Or at least it feels that way.

The reasons? Well, it depends on who you talk to. Now, to be fair, yours truly could see this coming. The tournament had gotten too out of hand, too confusing. To make eight teams, the Bedford JV team was a participant the last two years. Often it was hard to figure out who would make the finals. Four days, as it was a year ago, was simply too much.

Some teams weren’t happy with the officiating, including tourney staple Coventry (R.I.) High School of Rhode Island. Two years ago Alvirne coaches were fuming (two different regimes), and last year Matt Simpson got penalized and had to sit out a game.

But, for all its shortcomings, the tourney seemed to bring some money into the hockey community, with program advertising, etc. It was good boost for the South program, which, whether with Pelham or not, pulled off a couple of tourney titles. Look up some of the comments after last year’s tourney and the feeling was the event had new life and was ready to continue.

Ouch.

Yet the plug was pulled, due to what Nashua Athletic Director Lisa Gringras termed “lack of interest.” You have to also figure that Conway Arena likely would stand to make more money with public skates, etc. rather than donate ice time.

But many in the local hockey community feels the sheet of ice was pulled out from under them, and while respecting the athletic department and Gingras, disagree with the notion there wasn’t much interest.

“We have a committee (small army) of passionate parents who were ready to team up and run everything for the tournament (selling ads for the program, running the clock/50-50/penalty boxes, etc.),” South-Pelham hockey parent Jason Foss said, adding that some community fund raisers, etc. would have also given the event a boost.

Gingras also cited a tough time getting teams to commit, etc. Ironically, Keene won the Conway title a year ago.

But, as one member of the hockey community, “Why are we all going to Keene when we have our own rink and can have our own tournament here?”

“I’m pretty disappointed,” South-Pelham Kings coach Shawn Connors said. “But I am happy we are (still) in a tournament, either way. It could be worse I guess.

“We’ve already been talking about figuring out what we’ve got to do next year to get it back.”

That process needs to start early. It starts with lobbying the rink and the athletic department to bring the event back. With that, evidence that the there is support for it, especially organizational support, is key.

Third is a plan, which we’ll be glad to provide. We say keep it simple, and go no more than three days, six teams: North-Souhegan, South-Pelham, Merrimack, Alvirne-Milford to start. Either go with Division III’s Hollis Brookline-Derryfield and Pembroke-Campbell as the other two, or invite two out-of-state or at least out of the area teams.

Have the North and South co-ops get a bye into the semis.

Day One: You have the other four teams compete in the first round quarterfinals. Winners go to the semis vs. the Nashua teams.

Day Two: Three games in all: Semis, and a fifth place game between the first day’s losing teams.

Day Three: Two games. Semifinal winners in the finals, naturally, and a third place consolation game.

Ties? Five minutes of 3 on 3, then if nothing decided, a three-frame shootout.

No muss, no fuss.

The numbers are good for the two Nashua co-op teams, so good in fact there is a combined JV squad. Not having a holiday tournement sends the wrong message that the sport is heading in the wrong direction when apparently it isn’t.

But, the hockey community has to realize,high school athletic directors generally view the sport as a pain. It’s an expensive item on their budgets, and when you end up having to co-op with other schools, they feel the bang for the buck just isn’t there. Thus, the hockey community needs as strong a presence as possible, just about everywhere.

In any event, let Keene get teams from its own area. Keep the locals here.

Work on that, hockey community, and let’s hope next year you can be home for the holidays.

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, or@Telegraph_TomK.tking@nashuatelegraph.com