Darin Lane's schedule this weekend probably isn't much different than that of many hockey lovers in the Berkshires. He's up with the sun, on or around the ice all day, and doesn't quit until well after sunset.
The difference: Lane's at the rink as a manager, a coach and a player.
"I grew up here," said Lane, the rink manager of the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink in North Adams. "My parents were the original owners of the skate shop. I was an original rink rat in the building. This is where I belong, in my opinion.
"I've played all over the country and all over the world. ... To come back to town and manage the facility I love is a dream come true."
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial rink is just one of a number of sheets of Berkshire ice that is full of hockey players this weekend. As the Best of the Best adult tournament is played there, the 43rd annual Kittredge Youth Hockey Tournament is on ice all day today and Monday at the Boys & Girls Club of Pittsfield.
Add in Wahconah Regional High School's 3-3 tie with Ludlow in North Adams on Saturday afternoon, and Williams College's men beating Plattsburgh State (N.Y.) 5-1 Saturday night at Lansing Chapman Rink in Williamstown, and you have an unofficial "Hockey Day" in the Berkshires.
It doesn't happen without a lot of behind-the-scenes work, of course.
"I think it's a great showcase for all the youth teams around here," Tierney said. "It's just kind of fun to have all this hockey going on from very early in the morning to very late at night."
All three youth hockey programs in the Berkshires -- the host Bruins, the Northern Berkshire Black Bears and the South Berkshire Rattlers -- are playing in the Kittredge tournament. Local referees are volunteering their services throughout the weekend, and the Club will see hockey players, coaches and fans come and go from today until the last championship game at 5 p.m. Monday.
What keeps them coming back every year since 1971? Tierney has an idea.
"I think it's the charming, cozy, chaotic atmosphere here," she said. "People, as old as this rink is, think it's unique and charming."
The kids aren't alone on the ice. The Best of the Best tournament in North Adams also features three local teams -- the Shamrocks, the Rebels and the Braves -- made up of players from the county's adult hockey league. A New Hampshire team is also taking part in the tournament, which will be followed by the Bay State Winter Games in March and another, bigger adult tournament in April.
Between high schools, youths and adults, the North Adams rink hosted 16 games Saturday. Lane -- the former St. Joseph coach who played at Drury High School and North Country Community College (N.Y.) before a pro career in Europe and various stops in the southern United States -- played in two of them for the Shamrocks.
Neither of Lane's high school hockey connections to the Berkshires are in existence today. The Drury program went under in 2010, and the St. Joseph program folded after last season. To him, though, that doesn't necessarily mean hockey is dying off here.
"Some people say it's dying because there's no Hennessy League. It's dying because the youth teams are down. Really, it's just the ebb and flow," he said. "For whatever reason, there are generations where numbers are way up [and] way down.
"If you come here tonight [and] Saturday nights from 4 to 6:30 in North Adams, you'll see over 65 kids from ages 4 to 10 on the ice. The energy is just unbelievable."
Events like the Kittredge tournament, he continued, show that there is still a vibrant hockey community in Berkshire County at many levels.
"There's so much energy in hockey ... that we're our own little subculture," he said.
"More importantly, it's the responsibility of all of us in hockey to cultivate the bottom. The base is where it's at."
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