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.”
There are no crazy ice times in this program. The 6 a.m. practices or 9 p.m. game times for Bantams on school nights are non-existent. The top priority is education, and school work always comes first. Tolstrup believes the close bond formed between players is something that will last a lifetime.
“Every kid gets power play and penalty kill times,” said Tolstrup. “We roll the lines and get to develop every player, not just the best.”
That doesn’t mean the Ice Hawks are not competitive. It’s quite the opposite. They compete with club programs and have developed terrific rivalries with the Boston Stars and New England Predators. The Ice Hawks also take on town teams, and Bantam Blacks recently beat a tough Woburn team, 7-6 in a thriller. The program has strong teams without cutting kids as long as they are willing to attend practices, work hard, and be good citizens.
The Ice Hawks have a code of conduct which players must sign, and it is taken very seriously. Every youngster is required to commit to the team and conduct themselves properly both on and off the ice.
“We’ve taken travel, bad ice times, and win at all costs out of the equation,” said Tolstrup. “We are a hybrid providing the cost of town hockey but the coaching talent and development of club hockey.”
Ice Hawk coaches have strong credentials, and many have had terrific college careers including Frank Hoff (Merrimack), Neil Mulcahy (captain of Plattsburgh State national champs), Bob Carroll (UMass Dartmouth), Chris D’Orio (Union), Eric D’Orio (Dartmouth), Alex Moody (Colby), Tim Flynn (Curry), and Joe Keyes (Rochester) to name a few.
Being an Ice Hawk means taking part in various events to help raise money for those less fortunate. The Bantam Black team ran in the 5K Jolly Jaunt last month, raising a thousand dollars for Special Olympics. A program wide food drive in conjunction with state representative Brad Hill involved Ice Hawks teams at all levels, and Bantams participated in a food drive for a pantry in Ipswich.
They have also chalked up some impressive performances in tournaments. Last month the Bantam Black (teams are designated by colors) won the Bantam Blizzard Tournament at Governor’s Academy and finished second at the Exeter, New Hampshire Turkey Tournament last November.
Bantam Black players include Will Friend and Ben Leach of Hamilton, Declan Gill, Tom Anderson, Jake Gamble, Ryan Clement, Nic Disciullo, and Trevor Armand of Danvers; Paolo Recupero, Mckinley Karpa, Duncan Tolstrup, Jake Sadoway, and Adam Fyrer of Ipswich; Sean Hirtle of Rowley; Jackson Rice of Manchester; Zac Tinkham of Middleton; and Chris Egan of Boxford.
“I’m proud of these kids,” said Tolstrup. “They’re all good kids with bright futures ahead of them.”