LACONIA — Rod Simmons, head coach and manager of the American Hockey Institute's Fighting Spirit, says he's only spent a little time in Laconia but he's already impressed with the city's hockey tradition and is looking forward to having his junior hockey team play a full schedule next season at the Laconia Ice Arena.
''It's nice to come to a city that has a long tradition of supporting local hockey teams'' said Simmons, as he read a history of the Laconia Lakers, an amateur hockey team that started playing in Laconia in 1946 and became a powerhouse during the 1950s and 1960s, at the entryway to the Laconia Ice Arena, which was written by Lakers' goalie John Richardson.
Simmons, who is from Ogdensburg in upstate New York, has coached the Fighting Spirit to two straight first place finishes in the Northern States Hockey League and saw his team advance to the semifinals with 7-1 and 6-3 wins over the New England Stars at the Laconia Ice Arena last weekend.
The Fighting Spirit will be looking for their second straight win in the league championship series this coming weekend in Morrisville, New York, where they play the Jersey Shore Wildcats Saturday and hope to advance to Sunday's championship game.
The Fighting Spirit moved to Waterville Valley last summer after playing the previous year at Lake George, New York, and were forced to look for a new home when the New York arena decided not to put down any ice.
''We've really enjoyed Waterville but have been looking for a larger community where our players can get involved. Laconia has a strong youth program and that will allow our players to do some volunteer activity'' said Simmons.
The Laconia Ice Arena has been the home for many years of the Laconia Junior Leafs and New Hampshire Lakers, who played in the Eastern Hockey League and the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League, but those teams opted last summer to take the year off due to a number of issues.
Simmons said that his players are 18-20 year-olds who are looking to play college hockey at the Division I and Division II level and will be taking college courses, hopefully at Lakes Region Community College and will live in dorm style atmosphere like that of a prep school where they will be supervised by their coaches.
Simmons' wife Lisa, a native of London, Ontario, who is a professional power skating instructor, is the team's skating coach.
He said that the Fighting Spirit has already placed 40 of its players in Division I and Division II schools and that between seven and nine players from the 2013-14 team are likely to be placed this year.
Members of AHI Fighting Spirit practice at the Laconia Ice Arena, where they defeated the New England Stars 7-1 and 6-3 in a weekend series to advance to the semifinals of the Northern States Hockey League in Morrisville, New York this coming weekend. The Fighting Spirit will move to Laconia next season after having played this season in Waterville Valley. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)