It is one of the most distinctive sounds of wintertime: the smooth scrape of metal blades on ice.For anyone who has skated, that sound recalls the movement of flexing, leaning, digging first one blade edge into the ice to push and glide, then the other.
The scuff of blades on rink ice or a frozen pond brings to mind the gift of almost unnatural speed, the flick of a puck, the clash of competition. It recalls turns, spins and curlicues etched on ice. It revisits places reachable only in the coldest months of the year.
Ice skating is so basic to winter it’s prehistoric. The first skates were leg bones of deer or ox, bored with holes for leather straps. These bone skates allowed hunters and travelers to conserve energy by gliding rather than walking across frozen lakes.
Technology has improved a lot since 3,000 B.C. Top-of-the-line men’s hockey skates, with carbon fiber composite boot, molded anatomical fit, lace-bite protection and Lightspeed stainless-steel runners retail for around $600.
Of course, there are plenty of great skates that cost a lot less. Good-quality figure and hockey skates start around $80.
Skater’s Edge is an old-fashioned New England pro shop on Manchester’s West Side, “serving the hockey gods for over 20 years” as their Web site proclaims. Armand and Mike Desrosiers repair old skates and fit and sell new and used hockey and figure skates. The father and son team are masters of the art of skate sharpening, which can make all the difference in performance on the ice.
The blade of a skate is not like the blade of a knife. Hockey and figure skates actually have two edges on each blade. For hockey skates especially, the arc of the hollow between the edges determines the attributes of the skate.
How often should skates be sharpened? Depends on how hard you use them. “When they begin to slip and lose their grip” is Mike Desrosiers’ advice. He sharpens his kids’ skates weekly. Once a year may be adequate for the occasional skater.
Mike grew up in Bedford, playing hockey on ponds, in back yards, at the local rink, then in high school and college. His dad Armand got involved in youth hockey administration, then national development of the sport. Mike’s oldest daughter is a figure skater, and his son and younger daughter play hockey. The schedule can be intense, but Mike doesn’t mind. “It’s a long winter. It’s what you do to keep busy,” he says.
Ice hockey is a relative of the Scottish game of shinty and the Irish sport of hurling. Historians believe the English summer game of field hockey, taking its name from the French word hoquet, meaning shepherd’s crook or bent stick, became the winter game of bandy in the frozen fens of eastern England. British soldiers brought the sport to Canada. Students at McGill University, in Montreal, played the first games with modern rules in the 1870s.
New Hampshire got in on the action early. The first organized game of ice hockey in the United States was played on November 17, 1883, on the lower pond at St. Paul’s School in Concord. In 1910 mill teams and a Mill League were formed in Berlin. The Concord Hockey Club was founded in 1927. In Manchester the St. Jean (de Baptiste) Maple Leafs played at the Kelly Street church grounds from the late 1930s to the early 1960s.
Mike Desrosiers, whose grandparents are French-Canadian, says that in the first 10 years of business, many of his customers had French accents. That has changed. The sport is changing, too, with more indoor rink play, more travel teams and increased specialization.
Indoor rinks have vastly expanded options and seasons for skaters. A typical commercial rink in New Hampshire offers open time for public skating, skate rentals and instruction and rents ice to hockey leagues, high school teams and figure skating clubs.
Mark Farrington, director of skating at The Rinks at Exeter, says kids as young as 3 can learn to skate, but it’s fun for all ages and a good workout besides. First step: learning to stand and walk in skates off the ice, and being able to stand on one leg and lift the other.
“It’s all about balance,” he says.
Beginners rehearse falling down and getting up. Kneepads and elbow pads are recommended and helmets are required. Concussions are probably the most common skating injury, says Farrington. As a professional figure skater, he has had four of them.
On the ice, rookie skaters first learn to walk, then “swizzle” — bending and extending their knees to curve their skates together and apart, using the blade edges to push off and gain momentum. “Stop” is a snowplow; later a one-foot hockey stop is taught.
Beginners normally wear figure skates because the blade is flatter. Hockey blades have a rocker bottom, and the deeper hollow between the two edges makes a skater work harder but it grips the ice better, says Kurt Mallet, director of hockey at The Rinks at Exeter.
Two of the largest youth hockey leagues in New Hampshire play out of The Rinks, competing at an elite national level. Instruction, camps and clinics are offered at all levels.
The sport is booming for girls right now, beginning at the U-8 level. A beginner clinic for “hockey moms” meets Thursday mornings, for women who got roped into the game thanks to their kids and ended up wanting to play, too.
The Winter Olympics usually boost participation in winter sports, says Karen Linehan, owner of The Rinks. The opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Olympics will be February 12 in Vancouver.
But ice skating is not all about games and glory. Adventurers in search of remote beauty in the great outdoors are discovering a new old-fashioned kind of skating, blazing trails across lakes and gliding for miles on frozen rivers. Instead of strapping bones on their shoes, they clip long, flat blades onto cross-country ski boots.
Nordic skating (sometimes called tour skating, or distance skating) is popular in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, where people commute to work on frozen canals or skate recreationally outdoors.
Jamie Hess, of Norwich, Vt., took a trip to Stockholm in 1999, and fell in love with Nordic skating. He started a business and began importing the specialty skates and other Nordic equipment to sell here.
He also founded the Montshire Skating Club. The club maintains a four-and-a-half-mile-long groomed ice skating trail on Lake Morey, in Fairlee, Vt., across the river from Orford. It is the longest such trail in the U.S.
The club also leads free “wild skating” tours on many lakes in central New Hampshire and Vermont, and sometimes portions of the Connecticut River. Wild skaters meet at the edge of the lake or river, choose a route and test the ice as they go along.
Nordic skate rentals are $20 per day and are advisable on a tour.
“Figure or hockey skates would not keep up,” says Hess. “Nordic skates are so much more efficient over distance. They’re safer, too. Outdoors the ice can be bumpy, with cracks and patches of snow.”
Nordic skating is highly weather-dependent: an e-mail newsletter features updated ice reports and notices of upcoming tours, workshops and events. There are currently 2,000 subscribers.
To sign up for the newsletter, visit www.nordicskater.com. For information about Nordic skating, visit www.nordicskater.org. NH
Great Places to SkateDartmouth/Lake Sunapee
Occom Pond, Hanover
10 Hilton Field Rd., Hanover; (603) 643-6534; www.dartmouth.edu/~doc/dxc – Cross-country skis, snowshoes and ice skates are available for rent at the Dartmouth Cross-Country Ski Center on the lower level of the Dartmouth Outing Club building; skates are sharpened while you wait. Hot dogs, chili and hot chocolate are sold on weekends. Rental hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The Annual Occom Pond Party is February 13, noon-3 p.m. and includes games, food, music and sleigh rides.
Campion Ice Skating Rink
394 N. Main St., West Lebanon; (603) 643-1222; www.campionrink.com – Public skating, hockey, learn-to-skate.
Squam Lakes Winterfest
January 16, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free and open to the public; ice skating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ice golf. Chili contest fundraiser, featuring local restaurants; purchase a souvenir mug to taste the chili.
Squam Lakes Association Resource Center, 534 U.S. Rte. 3, Holderness; plenty of parking in the field.
King Pine Ski Area
1251 Eaton Rd., East Madison; (603) 367-8896; www.kingpine.com – Ice skating at the groomed and lighted Tohko Dome Skating Rink; public skate and rentals.
Laconia Ice Arena
468 Province Rd., Laconia; (603) 528-0789; www.laconiaicearena.com – Daily public skating, and $7 adult walk-on hockey pick-up games Mon., Wed. and Fri. from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Pop Whalen Ice Center
390 Pine Hill Rd., Wolfeboro; at the town-owned Abenaki Ski Area; (603) 569-5639. Public skating, instruction.
Rochester Ice Arena
(Rochester Recreation Department) 63A Lowell St., Rochester; (603) 332-4120; www.rochesterrec.com – Public skate, lessons, hockey leagues.
Bow Town Pond
Next to the community center on Logging Hill Road, Bow; (603) 228-2222. Seasonal skating on a cleared pond; free and open to the public. Two plowed rinks — one for kids and families, one for hockey.
8 Riverside St., Nashua; (603) 595-2400; www.conwayarena.com – N.H.’s newest ice rink. Public skating, hockey leagues, lessons, figure skating.
Ice Skating Parks, Nashua
City Parks and Recreation, (603) 589-3370. Seasonal outdoor rinks with general skating hours and hockey hours are located at: Roby Park, on Spit Brook Road; North Common, Manchester Street; Rancourt Skating Park, Rancourt Street; Atherton Skate Park, Atherton Street; Labine Skate Park, Cleveland Street by the Fairgrounds.
20 Constitution Dr., Hudson; (603) 880-4424; www.cyclonesarena.com – Public skating, lessons, figure skating and hockey camps.
15 Loudon Rd., Concord; (603) 228-2784. Public skating.
White Park, Concord Parks and Recreation
Intersection of Washington and Center Streets, Concord; (603) 589-3370. Skating on a natural pond; rentals Friday nights and weekends.
Ice Den Arena
600 Quality Dr., Hooksett; (603) 668-0795; icedenarena.net – Public skating, hockey leagues.
Tri-town Ice Arena
311 West River Rd., Hooksett; (603) 485-1100; www.tri-townicearena.com – Two-rink facility for all types of skating and lessons. Official training facility of the New Hampshire Monarchs; home of the Jr. Monarchs youth hockey.
60 Lowell Road, Route 38, Salem; (603) 893-4448; www.the-icenter.com – Public skating, lessons, hockey, family skate club on Saturday mornings.
Manchester Parks and Recreation maintains two arenas and a pond:
Dorrs Pond, Livingston Park
352 Hooksett Rd., Manchester (603) 624-6565; Outdoor skating, weather permitting. Warming hut adjacent to the pond, with a woodstove and restrooms.
JFK Memorial Coliseum
303 Beech St., Manchester; (603) 624-6329. Seasonal public skating and rentals, Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30-11:30 a.m., weekends 2-4 p.m.
West Side Ice Arena
1 Electric St., Manchester; (603) 624-6428. Seasonal stick and puck Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m.-noon.
Cheshire Fair Ice Arena
319 Monadnock Hwy, East Swanzey; (603) 357-4740; www.cheshirefair.com – Seasonal public skating.
Robin Hood Park
366 Reservoir St., Keene; (603) 357-9829. Seasonal skating on a groomed pond in a 130-acre forest park; free and open to the public.
The Inn at East Hill Farm
Troy, www.east-hill-farm.com; (603) 242-6495 – At the base of Mt. Monadnock, The seasonal indoor rink uses outdoor air to freeze.
62 Woodbound Rd., Rindge; (603) 532-8341; www.woodbound.com – Ski trails, lighted skating pond and sledding, with views of Mt. Monadnock.
Dover Ice Arena
110 Portland Ave., Dover; (603) 516-6060; www.ci.dover.nh.us/rec_dia.htm – Public skating, learn-to-skate, new over-45 hockey league, Great Bay Skating Club.
Jacksons Landing Ice Rink
9 Old Piscataqua Rd., Durham; (603) 868-3907. Seasonal outdoor covered rink, operated by the town of Durham. Public skating.
The Rinks at Exeter
40 Industrial Dr., Exeter; (603) 775-7423; www.therinksatexeter.com – Public skating, rentals, hockey leagues, figure skating, learn-to-skate, clinics.
Bethlehem Recreation Park
Main and Agassiz Streets, Bethlehem. Free lighted outdoor rink, seasonal; BYO skates.
West Main St., Conway; (603) 447-5886; www.hamarena.com – Public skating, stick and puck, hockey lessons and leagues, figure skating, tournaments.
60 Loon Mountain Rd., Lincoln; (800) 229-5666; www.loonmtn.com – Natural outdoor rink; rentals at the Loon Mountain Adventure Center.
Waterville Valley Ice Arena
Town Square, Waterville Valley; (603) 236-4813; www.watervillevalley.org/wvnh_icearena.html – Public skating, figure skating, stick and puck.
Great North Woods
Notre Dame Arena
15 Hillside Ave., Berlin; (603) 723-8883; www.notredamearena.org – Public skating, stick and puck, hockey and broomball leagues.
The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel
1000 Cold Spring Rd., Dixville Notch; (800) 255-0600; www.thebalsams.com – Winter activities for guests, including ice skating.
How To: One-foot SpinFigure skaters must have balance, coordination and core strength, says Mark Farrington, director of skating at The Rinks at Exeter. Demonstrate your skill with this intermediate-level move.
The One-Foot Spin is a rotation in a single spot on one leg, with the skate blade flat on the ice. Begin in a standing position; later, try stepping into it.
1. If the left leg is your spin leg, your left arm is out in front of your torso and your right arm is straight out to the side, at shoulder height. Weight is balanced and centered on the left leg, with the right leg out to the side and slightly behind, balanced on the toe pick.
2. With back and neck straight, swing your right arm in to your chest and lift your right leg to hold it against your standing leg, with the blade parallel to your left calf. Use the toe pick to push off slightly with your right leg, though the slight “wind up” of your arms and torso are really what initiates the move.
3. Simultaneously bring your left arm in to your chest, crossed with your right arm, with both hands making fists, and you will begin to spin on the flat of your skate blade. Help keep the blade flat on the ice by pushing down inside the skate with the ball of your foot.
4. To finish the spin, open your arms and release your free leg.
Farrington, who was a national level skater in England and a member of Disney On Ice for 11 years, runs a top-notch Learn-to-Skate program at The Rinks at Exeter (www.therinksatexeter.com). Six-week sessions for Tots (ages 3 to 5) and all-ages Basic Levels 1-8 are $95 and include free use of rental skates. The One-Foot Spin is a Level 5 skill.
Safety On Frozen Ponds and LakesIce should be 4 to 6 inches thick to bear the weight of a small group, according to the N.H. Fish and Game Department. Test thickness in several locations using an auger or axe. If ice at the shoreline is wet and cracked, stay on dry land. Rivers and lakes are prone to wind and wave action, so choose smaller bodies of water.
If you break through the ice, don’t panic. Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. Roll to safety. To help someone who has fallen in, lie down flat and reach with a branch, plank or rope; form a human chain, if possible. After securing the victim, wiggle backwards to solid ice before standing. The victim may need CPR or treatment for hypothermia.
People who participate in “wild skating” over lakes and rivers, often while wearing special Nordic skates, will bring safety equipment with them that may include:
• Ice claws: a pair of plastic grips with hardened stainless-steel spikes worn on a nylon strap around the neck for easy reach in an emergency
• Nordic lifeline: a 25-meter rope made of braided polypropylene, in an aerodynamic bag for easy throwing
• Nordic skating poles: aluminum shafts with ice-piercing steel tips to stay balanced and test the ice ahead (Equipment available at www.nordicskater.com.)
How To: Build Your Own Backyard Skating RinkHockey legend Wayne Gretzky learned to skate in his own back yard, on a rink built by his dad, Walter. The “Wally Coliseum,” as the rink was nicknamed, kept the four Gretzky boys busy all winter in Brantford, Ontario, in the 1960s.
With simple carpentry skills, wood boards and a white plastic tarp, parents can construct a rink worthy of a future NHL star. Or just make a decent little frozen spot rimmed with packed snow for toddler twizzles and bunny hops. Building how-tos and rink maintenance tips, as well as supplies, are available online at these recommended Web sites.
• The Backyard Ice Rink (www.backyardicerink.com) details the two basic methods of creating outdoor rinks: the liner-and-board method and the old-fashioned flood-the-snow method requiring only a shovel, a misting attachment for a garden hose, freezing temps at night and patience.
• RinkRake (www.rinkrake.com) is a Canadian company offering rink-building products. The instructions, materials lists and FAQs work with or without purchasing RinkRake products.
• Ditto for NiceRink (www.nicerink.com), a Wisconsin company selling rink liners, boards, brackets and ice resurfacers, as well as the popular 20-by-40-foot Rink-In-A-Box for $335.
• Howard Purchase of Newfoundland, Canada (www.hpurchase.com/backyard.htm) details his 11 years of experience building rinks in his back yard, with advice, links and photos. It’s a real labor of ice love.
• A quick search of eHow.com and instructables.com will turn up a variety of user-posted instructions for backyard ice rinks. YouTube.com is hit-or-miss, but provides plenty of home-movie-type inspiration.
How To: Play Pond HockeyThe sunsets are amazing and the beer stays cold. Nothing beats a pick-up game of pond hockey at the end of a winter day or just passing a puck back and forth on the ice with a friend.
“It’s a big stress reliever,” says Kevin Keaveney. “It takes your mind off everything.”
The 42-year-old is energetic in his pursuit of relaxation. Keaveney scouts conditions at local ponds near his home in Exeter. He keeps his skills sharp playing indoors a couple evenings a week. He and his friends skated on a water hazard at a country club golf course until they were discovered and asked to leave. He has been known to knock on doors when he spots a decent man-made rink in someone’s yard.
His policy: “Never be afraid to grab a big shovel and help a group cleaning off a pond. Usually they’re more than happy to share, and you meet new friends.”
When he closes his eyes, he can picture the perfect black ice, several inches thick. It comes after a hard freeze and lasts only until snow falls and winter weathers the ice.
“It’s like skating on glass,” he reminisces.
Take a guy like Keaveney who grew up skating on ponds and never lost his love for it. Multiply him by a whole lot of other guys who did the same thing, or wish they did. Bring them together on 20 rinks on a very big lake in New Brunswick, Canada, for three days of intense competition and camaraderie. Call it the World Pond Hockey Championships.
This February, 120 teams from around the world with names like the Goaldiggers, Cold Fusion, Boston Long Shots, Maritime Mafia, Puckweisers and the Raggedy Ass River Boys will vie for the title.
Keaveney and his team, the Hard Chargers, will be there, too. It will be the sixth time they have competed — winning some games but not all, and loving almost every minute of it.
“The first year, the wind chill was minus 35,” he says.
Games are 4-on-4. Rinks are half again as long as the standard NHL rink and rimmed with snow so there are no banking shots. Body checking and slapshots are illegal. Penalties are few. Helmets are the only mandatory protection, though Keaveney wears knee and elbow pads, too.
Goals are standard width but just 10 inches high, with no goalies. There are no offsides. Passes are kept below the knee. When a puck goes out of bounds, the last team to touch it loses possession. Skating and stick skills, and smart teamwork, take precedence over brute force.
“It’s a real chess match. With 30 minutes running time, you don’t want to expend all your energy right away,” says Keaveney.
Traditional at the end of a game: a (seriously cold) beer.
This year, a team called CMI, from Stratham, will also compete at the world champs. At the opening ceremonies two teams will now hold the New Hampshire flag.
Also, for the first time since the tournament began in 2002, the World Championships will include a women’s division.
Large-scale pond hockey tournaments are growing in popularity as people rediscover back-to-basics hockey played in the great outdoors. New Hampshire gets in on the action this year with the first annual New England Pond Hockey Classic, scheduled for Feb. 5-7 on Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith.
Keaveney has been teaching his daughter and son, who are 9 and 4, to skate — just like his own father taught him years ago. He hopes one or both of his kids will develop a passion for hockey.
“Once you develop the skills on ice, skating backwards and forwards, you glide around and it’s very relaxing, like a form of meditation. But you’re not just sitting there: you’re outside, and maybe the sun is going down and the sky is red,” muses Keaveney. “And you get the last bit of a game in before the sun sets.”
“I’m obsessed,” he admits. “But in a good way.”
The World Pond Hockey Championship
Feb. 16-18, Plaster Rock, New Brunswick: www.worldpondhockey.com
US Pond Hockey Championships
Jan. 22-24, Minneapolis, Minn.: www.uspondhockey.com
New England Pond Hockey Classic
Feb. 5-7, Lake Winnipesaukee, Meredith, N.H.: www.pondhockeyclassic.com
New England Pond Hockey Festival
Feb. 5-7, Rangeley, Maine: www.newenglandpondhockey.com