By Lloyd Jones
CONWAY — Playing for the love of the game, and bragging right.
A group of local hockey players arrive at Ham Ice Arena once a week, with no one else in the arena, the concession stand is closed, there's no music coming out of the speakers. It's Wednesday — time for the Wednesday Night Game.
For the past year and a half some of the finest hockey players in Mount Washington Valley, it looks like a who's who of recent Kennett High hockey standouts, take to the ice for 50 minutes of nonstop end-to-end action. Where else are you going to see a goalie make 78 saves and be on the winning team?
"It's perfect," Mike Lane, head coach of the Kennett High hockey team, said. "Believe it or not, it was Todd Frechette's idea. It's our take on the movie 'Mystery, Alaska,' where they had the Saturday game, we have the Wednesday game."
"Mystery, Alaska" is the 1999 movie about a fictional small town in Alaska named Mystery, where hockey is the cohesive activity that unites the town. The "Saturday Game" is a weekly event of amateur four-on-four pond hockey played on the open ice of the town's frozen lake. The team consists of 10 local townsmen of varying ages and occupations with two goalies and eight skaters publicly scrimmaging each other every Saturday.
Lane, who has seven of his former players in the Wednesday game, said it was on a bus ride to ConVal during high school hockey season, that Todd Frechette came up with the idea, and then the two of them along with fellow hockey coach Justin Frechette did some serious brainstorming.
"There weren't enough young guys to sustain (the Tier I) League, but there were a few of us who wanted to play," Lane explained. "We came up with the idea, like Mystery, to play four-on-four with goalies. We have a really good group of guys. We love the game, but it's serious when we're on the ice."
Teams are drawn out of a hat a week in advance. Standings and statistics are also kept.
"It's the luck of the draw," Justin Frechette said, explaining that Ricky Gaudreau and Jonny Parkhurst are always on separate teams since they're the lone goalies among the 18 players. "One week I was on a team with no defensemen. It forces you play different positions."
The teams were evenly matched on this night, so much so, that it required the rare eight-person shootout after regulation time in order to declare a victor.
Suiting up for the Gray team were goalie Jonny Parkhurst, Jeff Lane, Jesse "Bubba" Tabor, Tyler Derrick, Joe Murphy, Jason Fall, Todd Frechette Terry Galligan and Michael Skelton.
Donning Red for the night were goalie Ricky Gaudreau, Bryan Lamontagne, Evan Howla d, Greg Allain, Brian Frechette, Mike Lane, Justin Frechette, Brad Hauser and Griffin Meador.
The players skate two 22-minute halves with just a three to five minute break at what would be halftime.
This was week six of a 10-week program. The athletes started the Wednesday Game last year, and after a brief winter break plan to resume it in the spring.
The puck drops at 8:20 p.m. — Ken McPherson is the lone referee — and the action, along with teasing follows.
"Hey Murphy," Justin Frechette yells to Joe Murphy a mere 11 seconds into the contest, "you can't score, so they put you on D?"
Four minutes into the game, the pace is end-to-end, Justin Frechette knows the game will take a toll on everyone.
"I've got muscles hurting that I didn't know I had," he said smiling.
A couple of minutes later, defensemen Howland and Allain, who played for Berlin High, have a light moment on the bench.
"We're ugly right now guys," Allain said.
"You noticed," Howland replied with a wide grin.
At 10:50 of the opening period, the Gray team breaks onto the scoreboard first. Jason Lane scores off a feed from Murphy.
With 8:02 left in the period, Justin Frechette ties the contest with a snapshot tally.
Just 62 seconds later, the Gray squad regains its two-goal lead on a goal by Derrick.
"Tough one to give up," Justin Frechette said. "I'd just started trash-talking."
While a few goals were scored, the net-minders were sensational making a slew of highlight reel saves. Parkhurst made a super stop of a Meador bid that immediately got a reaction out of Justin Frechette.
"Be nice if you did that Ricky," he shouts nd follows with a big smile.
"He's got two of those per winter and we saw them both tonight," Meador said as he returns to the bench after his shift.
Parkhurst made 78 saves on the night while Gaudreau made 69.
The Gray team extended its lead to 3-1 just 54 ticks before the intermission when Murphy lit the lamp from Skelton.
The horn sounds for the break, but both teams stay on the ice, congregating around their respective benches. Not much of a halftime.
"We can't stop too long Lloyd or else we'll cramp up," Mike Lane said, laughing. "We decided on the bus ride to ConVal to play 22 minute halves, which didn't seem that long, but then you play, and it's a real long time."
Momentum was wearing red in the second half, and the Red team nets a pair of goals to knot the contest at 3-3. Meador scores at 19:46, and adds his second at 13:01 off a sensational feed from Hauser.
"They don't want to be out here with the red death," Meador said with grin.
What happens if the game ends in a tie?
"It's never happened," Mike Lane said.
"It did last winter, the week you weren't there," Justin Frechette said and explained the game will be decided by an eight-man shoot-out if its tied after regulation play.
With 7:47 to play, the first penalty of the night is called. It's on Gray, and it means a penalty shot. The skater gets the puck at center ice, but the second he makes contact with the puck, the game is live, and all of the players behind on the blue line start a mad dash to catch him. Lamontagne's bid goes wide to the left.
"It's going to be a long day at work tomorrow," Justin Frechette said following a quick respite on the bench.
With 6:04 to play, the Red team gets another crack at a penalty shot. This time, Parkhurst makes the save on Lane.
"The Wednesday Night Game is getting firey," Allain said.
"Typically," Lane said, "the team that presses at the end for the win loses. The Hockey Gods, they're mean!"
With time winding down, just four seconds left in regulation time, the Red team gets a face-off in the Gray team's zone.
"Let's pull the goalie," Allain said.
"That's a Berlin coaching move," Justin Frechette said, smiling.
The horn sounds. It's a 3-3 tie.
"There it is boys, the elusive eight-man shoot-out," Justin Frechette said.
Murphy goes first for the Gray team and scores. Hauser follows with a goal for the Red squad. Tabor, the fifth skater to go for Gray finds the back of the net, and then skates by the Red bench looking to exchange high-fives. He got no takers.
Brian Frechette's bid for an equalizer clanks off the post.
Jeff Lane follows for the Gray team and makes it 3-1.
"We just need Evan and Greg Allain to score," Justin Frechette said as he bursts into laughter.
No one else scores. The teams head to their respective locker rooms. There's just one thing left.
"We have to do the walk of shame," Mike Lane said. "We've got to go to their locker room to draw names for next week."
- Category: Sports Columns