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N.E. Event Hits Valley

Woodstock, West Lebanon, Host Girls Championship

Woodstock — This time of year, Dan French’s job at Union Arena becomes less general manager and more traffic controller.

The end of February and the beginning of March marks youth hockey tournament season, and French is diving into it a little more than he usually does. Starting this morning, the Woodstock community center and skating facility will serve as home base to USA Hockey’s New England Tier II girls hockey championship.

Sixteen teams, split evenly between U12 and U14, descended upon the Upper Valley last night to begin the tournament at 10 a.m. today. West Lebanon’s Campion Rink is serving as a secondary game site; semifinals and finals will be staged at UA on Sunday.

It’s the first time UA has hosted a regional USA Hockey youth hockey in its 10-year history, although it entertained an adult women’s regional in 2006. It’s also nothing French hasn’t seen or done before — this weekend marks the fifth in a six-week run of such events at Union.

“For one, they are a lot of fun,” French said yesterday. “It’s a great way to fill the arena and keep it busy. It’s also a great way to bring people into Woodstock. We do our invitational tournaments at the time of year, in November and March, when Woodstock’s tourist season is generally over. So it’s a great way for the arena to continue to serve the community by bringing people to town.”

Teams qualified for regionals by making the finals or winning the finals of their state tournaments. The U14 competition comes with a significant carrot for this weekend’s winner: a trip to San Jose, Calif., for the Tier II nationals next month.

The art of securing a USA Hockey event is less of a science than it may seem. Each of the five New England district members — except Massachusetts, which is its own district in the USAH hierarchy — knows it will host a certain number of state and regional events. The method of determining hosts varies from state to state. Vermont tends to be informal because “we all know each other and know who is capable of hosting,” French said.

“Certain states can handle more because they’re bigger or have more rinks; Vermont gets three a year, usually. Once the state gets its allotment, it depends on who the vice president of tournaments (at the state level) is. There’s no formal procedure in Vermont. You call the vice president, talk to the vice president. … It’s, ‘Here’s the tourneys; who wants one?’ We put up our hand pretty quickly.”

This weekend has the added cachet of having an Upper Valley team in the fold. The Hanover Wild U12s earned a spot in regionals by making their state tournament finale two weekends ago, winning states in a 1-0 double overtime defeat of Concord.

“(Regionals) is as far as the U12s go, so in that regard this is a really big deal,” French said. “It’s cool that we have a local team. They have a really good chance to make it to Sunday. Hanover’s done a great job with its girls program, and they’ve played all of these teams already. … They’ve seen everybody. They know what to expect.”

From the organizational standpoint, so does French. In the past four weeks, UA has hosted two levels of the Vermont state youth hockey tournaments, part of the annual invitational for Dartmouth College’s Tuck School and the rink’s own Squirt-level Bear Invitational.

Hoping to host the regional last year, only to be turned down, French threw together the Pot-o-Gold youth tourney to fill St. Patrick’s Day weekend, drawing a dozen teams. Interest exploded to the point where 21 squads in three age groups will hit town for the Pot-o-Gold next weekend, necessitating help from Campion again.

Nothing French hasn’t done before. Nothing he doesn’t like to do, either.

“I enjoy having a lot of stuff to do, having a lot of activity,” he said. “That’s what’s so much fun about tournaments. It’s a lot of work, but it brings in so many people from so many different places. They really have a good time here.”

The U14 girls final is Sunday at 2:30 p.m., with the U12s to follow at 4 p.m. All results and schedules will be available online at www.uahockey.org.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.