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January 23, 2013

North Shore Ice Hawks attack youth hockey with new approach

Five years ago the North Shore Ice Hawks began with one team. The program which maintains an independent status and stresses giving back to the community just as much as on ice performance, has grown in leaps and bounds to include 11 different teams ranging from Mite Instructional to Bantams. Rick Tolstrup and Bill Heney started the program to offer kids on the North Shore a chance to get the kind of coaching they would experience at the elite level, but at a much lower cost because hockey can be a very expensive sport. They also prioritized having practices and games at reasonable times and at nearby rinks where a lot of travel was not involved.

Their concept has proven to be wildly popular, and Ice Hawks teams practice and play at Pingree Rink, Governor’s Academy, Talbot in Gloucester and Kasabuski in Saugus. Heney, who played at St. Michael’s College, later was between the pipes in the Boston Bruins camp during a lockout year, and also stopped pucks professionally for the Charlestown Chiefs. Hockey fans will remember the Chiefs (and the Hanson brothers) from the classic movie Slapshot.

Tolstrup got a late start in hockey, but when the family moved to the Boston area during the Bobby Orr era when hockey was king he joined his town’s Peewee team and later played at the JV level at Phillips Andover and in a house league at Colby.

“The story of the Ice Hawks is a different way of going about youth sports, one that is more in line with USA Hockey’s objectives,” said Tolstrup, who lives in Ipswich and coaches the Bantam Black team. “I think because we are independent we can focus on the important stuff and not just the wins. I can’t tell you what my team’s record is this season or any of our 11 teams. We all strive to be about a .500 team because that means we are challenged appropriately every game.”

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