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In his first trip to Eagle River, Wisconsin for the USA Hockey Adult Pond Hockey Championships, Erik Nyberg was a part of the event’s history. On a weekend where the majority of players are there to have fun and compete, the veteran referee and Oregon State Referee-in-Chief officiated a competitive semifinal game that would not end.
“I did have a record, I’m told. I had a six overtime game in my semifinal game,” he said. “Finally after the sixth overtime, one team took it home.”
It’s not the only unique experience for the pond hockey championships. Due to weather and the ice not forming, the 2020 edition moved from its normal home on Dollar Lake to the nearby Derby Track.
The change did not affect the play much and allowed for everyone to be centralized in one big location rather than spread out several tents out on the lake. It also helped make the event feel more like a small community, not that it needed it.
“I really can’t say enough about the people of Eagle River. It seems like everyone in the town is involved with this event,” said referee Pete Morris, working his fourth USA Hockey Adult Pond Hockey Championships. “They’re all friendly and looking to help you with whatever you need to get done. We’ve made really good friends up there over the years.”
From the moment Morris leaves Buffalo to head to the event, the camaraderie among refs and USA Pond Hockey Championship participants already has begun. Referees working the event get to catch up on how others are doing and develop new friendships.
It’s one of the reasons he keeps returning since initially being asked by friends at USA Hockey.
“It’s really just a great experience,” he said. “We have a ball with the other officials that come from around the country, some of whom we’ve seen there multiple times. Just the experience of being outdoors and officiating and watching the guys and women play some grassroots hockey really.”
Nyberg, meanwhile, officiated at the recommendation of Pacific District Referee-in-Chief Dan Ellison. He went in with an open mind and came away impressed.
Being new to the pond hockey championship, he felt welcomed and helped by the veteran group from the moment he arrived.
“The night before we started, they gave us some tips they had learned over the years. Having a whole lot of pucks in your pocket so you can keep the play going out on the ice and not having to find the puck to keep the games going,” said Nyberg. “Some general things that were different between pond hockey and regular hockey on an ice rink were very helpful.”
As a marquee event featuring a variety of players from their 20s to 70s, Morris tries to work games in as many different age groups and divisions as possible. The younger adults take the pond hockey games more seriously. Everyone is there, however, to be hanging out with their friends.
He also makes it a habit to take photos of all the best jerseys he sees.
“You want to work games in all different divisions and experience all different levels of competition and talent,” Morris said. “I see some of the same teams back year after year. On our flights up, a few times we’ve flown into Chicago and then to Wausau, we’ve flown with a few players from different teams. It’s a big social gathering in that way too.”
Working a few games at a time, being out on the ice most of the day and ending with social gatherings - Morris said one of the crew was an outstanding chef who makes dinner for the group - refereeing the USA Hockey Adult Pond Hockey Championships is quite an experience.
Even if most games do not make history, like the one Nyberg refereed.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how much sportsmanship was between the teams. Most of the teams I dealt with were really, really good spirited and had a lot of fun,” he said. “As a result, it made my experience a real fun time. I definitely want to go back.”