The kids here start skating the day they start walking, and soon they are donning the full hockey gear. The neighborhood parks have rinks to play in, and many pick up games can be found on any one of the ten thousand frozen lakes in the wintertime. And so it makes sense that a vision by one person has turned into one of the “101 things sports fans must experience before they die,” per ESPN. Yes, we are talking about the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships.
Started in 2006 by Fred Haberman, the first ever event took place on Lake Calhoun. There, 120 pond hockey players from across the country played the game on 25 rinks. Thousands of spectators were on hand to watch and cheer, and it was clear a new era in pond hockey was born.
This year, about 2,000 pond hockey players will descend on Lake Nokomis, which now hosts the event. The 300 teams should have ideal ice conditions, as temperatures will be cold enough to ensure a fairly smooth surface, despite our recent “heat wave.”
And that’s a good thing, because many of the guys and gals who participate in this tournament mean business. While there are divisions for all level of play, expect to see some former NHL-ers and college hockey stars out on the ice. The Open division is where you’ll find these folks (do you think they’ll like being referred to as “folks”?); 160 teams competing for the championship and to have their team name inscribed on the Golden Shovel.
Other divisions include the 40+, 50+, Rink Rats, Women’s and Boot Hockey. Just like the Open division, the teams in these divisions each have 4 players on the ice playing at a time, and they too are competing for their division championship and the honor to have their team name inscribed on the Golden Shovel.
New this year is the addition of lights, as in, playing under the lights, and several youth hockey teams from the area have been invited to do just that on Thursday, January 17 from 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm. And then, at 7:45 am on Friday, January 18, the opening ceremony takes place with a puck drop and tournament play starting at 8:30 am.
Tournament play runs Friday and Saturday in all divisions, with playoffs and championship games taking place on Sunday. The final awards ceremony is happening at 4:30 on Sunday.
If you go, don’t worry if you get hungry. Food from Joe Senser’s will be served in the Warming House Tent from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm Friday and Saturday, and from 7:00 am – 5:30 pm on Sunday, and a Beer Garden will run from 10:00 am - 9:00 pm on Friday and Saturday. Interested in skating but don’t want to play hockey? The family skating rink will be open from 8:30 am – 6:30 pm on Friday and Saturday, and from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm on Sunday.
So, whether you are cheering on a team, are an unbiased fan or a curious onlooker, Lake Nokomis is the place to be on Friday, January 18 through Sunday, January 20. And as it has been since 2006, the 2013 U.S. Pond Hockey Championships promise to be a good time. Oh, if you’re going, please let us know. We love hearing from our readers!