Youth hockey teams from around the region are competing in the 43rd annual Gib Kittredge Tournament at the Boys & Girls Club in Pittsfield and the rinks in North Adams and Williamstown.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Surrounded by reminders of the region's hockey past, the future of Berkshire County hockey hit the ice on Friday afternoon at the Boys & Girls Club.
The Berkshire Bruins are hosting the 43rd annual Gib Kittredge Tournament
this weekend at three sites: Williams College's Lansing Chapman Rink, North Adams' Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink and the Boys & Girls Club.
In the latter venue, there are banners celebrating Kittredge tourneys past, championships won by the Bruins youth program and, prominently near center ice, a banner trumpeting Berkshire County's six high school hockey programs.
The last banner is out of date. These days, that number is down to three high school hockey programs.
The hockey faithful hope that programs like the Bruins and events like the Gib Kittredge Tournament will change that trend.
"We've got to reintroduce the sport a little bit," said Douglas Crocker, a volunteer with the Bruins who on Friday afternoon was helping make preparations for the opening face off.
Judging from the turnout for the tournament, the sport's revival is well under way.
The Bruins program boasts 111 skaters in five teams from squirts to bantams. That number is on the rise for a couple of different reasons.
The club has made a strong community outreach effort with programming on community access television in Pittsfield. Youth hockey in the area has received a strong influx of girls, who account for between 30 and 40 percent of the Bruins' roster. And those other Bruins, the ones in Boston, have been successful enough in recent years to energize interest in the sport throughout New England.
Crocker notes there are other factors at work, too.
"We have a great program," he said. "Darin Lane up in North County is an excellent skating coach. The guy's phenomenal and the rink's done over real nice up there."
There are some obstacles. The sport is perceived as expensive to play, and there is a perception that it is inconvenient, requiring kids to commit to obscenely early practice times.
The Bruins address the former concern by maintaining a large stock of equipment youngsters can borrow to try out the sport.
The latter concern just isn't true, devotees maintain.
"I told people my kids were going to play hockey, and they said, 'Oh, you'll have to get up at 4 a.m.," said Sharon Henault, whose daughter and son played with the Bruins and whose son is a star on the Taconic team. "I looked at the schedule, and you really don't."
The schedule for this weekend includes games all day Saturday at the Boys & Girls Club. The first face off on Saturday is at 7:30 a.m., and the final game is set to start at 8 p.m. On Sunday, it is the same 7:30 start time with the last game scheduled for 6:45 p.m.
In North Adams on Saturday, there are a pair of games — at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The Peter W. Foote Rink is the scene of three games on Sunday, running consecutively and starting at 7 a.m. Sunday is also the only day to catch the action in Williamstown — from 11 a.m. until the conclusion of the last game, which starts at 2:45.
All the finals are scheduled for Pittsfield on Monday. The Squirt 1s get things started at 8 a.m., and the Bantam 2s finish up with a 3:30 title game.
The four-day tournament drew teams from as far away as New Jersey and as close to home as North and South County.
Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi, who dropped in to drop the ceremonial first puck, was happy to see all of the visitors.
"Welcome to those of you who made that long trip up from Sheffield," Bianchi told the South County-based Rattlers, who opened the tourney in a Squirt 1 matchup against the Bruins. "It's always nice to have folks from all over the area and all over New England come to Pittsfield."