The 17th annual USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Mel Fasang and his teammates.
The players on his Dallas-based team have played together in adult league ice hockey for nearly a decade, but they had never played organized ice hockey outside until this past weekend.
Players from across the United States and Canada, including the Dallas-based squad, were in Eagle River, Wis., for the Pond Hockey National Championships.
“Everything about it made sense for us, and guys were instantly in,” Fasangsaid. “The guys who could make it, it was a resounding ‘yes,’ and the ones who couldn’t were a little disappointed because they knew how much fun it would be. We just wanted to go to Wisconsin and play in a pond hockey tournament.”
There were 20-plus ice hockey rinks outdoors for the highly-anticipated, event held every year in Eagle River, a town of about 1,500 residents. This year’s event featured men’s and women’s divisions, including 231 teams from 31 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces with more than 420 games.
Participating teams had a three-game guarantee, which included additional action and playoffs with enough wins. Games were set up in a four-on-four format without goaltenders and players shooting at small 3-by-1 nets.
“A lot of people think it’s Mystery Alaska, but it’s not set up like that,” Fasangsaid. “You have to make a move, find a pass, get tight, and tuck it in.”
It wasn’t the first time Fasang played hockey outside. Several years ago, Dallas was hit with winter weather and he and several friends cleared a water hazard at a local golf course and played pond hockey for several days.
“It was a life event to play pond hockey in Dallas,” Fasang said. “We all realized what was going on was special. The course is next to a busy street and people were stopping and watching because they couldn’t believe people were playing pond hockey outdoors in Texas. A week later, we were back to playing golf in shorts on the course. That’s just how it goes in Texas.”
That was enough for Fasang and his teammates to seek out a more authentic pond hockey experience. The group flew into Minneapolis on Thursday, jumped into a 15-passenger van and made the drive to a cabin outside of the city, checking out the local establishments and supporting businesses along the way.
As part of the weekend event, a check-in celebration included expanded concessions, music, a cornhole tournament and plenty of beer provided by Coors. The team, which chose the name “Top Goons” as a play on “Top Gun” played two games within close proximity of one another on Friday and then another on the following day.
“What we expected was what we got,” Fasang said. “It was casual, friendly play with some fun banter and a little chirping. Overall, the dynamic was cool because you’re around so many people at the same time that it forces everyone to interact with one another. We’re all here for one reason.”
The idea initially came to members of the team through a group text. For the entire weekend, Fasang said the cost was less than $1,000, and the memories he and his teammates created at Eagle River will last a lifetime.
“I think it was super cool seeing this side of it,” Fasang said. “Some of the guys on the team have never been this far north, myself included. The facility was great, the local entertainment was fun and it was great to intermix with people all over the country. It was a really cool experience.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.