If you’ve asked anybody who’s ever been involved, the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships is a cool experience. Actually, it’s often a very cold experience, but a cool one, nonetheless.
This applies to everyone – players from hundreds of teams involved, family members, ice crew, the townspeople in Eagle River, Wisconsin, which hosted the event in early February. Anybody who’s ever attended this event consistently cites it as one of the coolest hockey experiences they’ve ever had.
This also applies to the 20 officials who officiated the games this year. One of those referees, an official since 1973 named Harry Hotchkiss who’s based in Louisville, Kentucky, recently spoke with USA Hockey to recap his experience.
USA Hockey: How many Pond Hockey National Championships have you attended?
Harry Hotchkiss: This was my first.
USAH: Wow, your first? What was it like?
Hotchkiss: It was great. Pure hockey. Not old hockey, where the sticks are up and there’s a lot of blood and guts. It was pure hockey. The puck was down on the ice. You couldn’t lift the puck above the knees. You couldn’t play the puck above the waist. I had 16 games and only one game did I have to step out on the ice and tell the guys, ‘hey, let’s bring the sticks down a little bit.’ They responded immediately. It was a clean game after that. I didn’t have any incidents at all, so it was fun. The players had fun. The officials had fun. There was a lot of camaraderie. It was really an enjoyable weekend.
USAH: You mentioned only having to go out on the ice once. Can you explain to someone who’s never seen a pond hockey game what you mean by that?
Hotchkiss: The referees don’t have to skate. You’re standing along the side, pacing back and forth in a snowbank.
USAH: What are the other rule differences between pond hockey and regular hockey?
Hotchkiss: Pond is 4-on-4, with no goalie. The puck has to be played along the ice, below the knees. The puck can get ricocheted off a shin guard or a skate above the knees, but it can’t be played at all above the waist. It makes the game a lot cleaner. It’s really obvious when a player is hooking another player because the stick is around the waist, when in pond hockey all the sticks are normally down on the ice trying to control the puck.
USAH: You mentioned that there was one game where the sticks got up a little bit. What happened?
Hotchkiss: It was one of the higher-level games, one of the younger teams. It was very competitive. They were starting to bring the sticks up. The nice thing about pond hockey is when you call a penalty, you automatically award a goal, instead of a penalty, so there’s a strong incentive for players not to commit penalties. It was really quick. Talked to both teams and away we went.
USAH: From that standpoint, it seems like an easy event to officiate. What were the biggest challenges?
Hotchkiss: The challenge was later in the day, the ice got choppier as the ice got chewed up by all the skating, so the puck didn’t go as smoothly. It was really a challenge for them to pass the puck around without it ricocheting up into the snowbank. In the more advanced games, it was just me and my scorekeeper/timekeeper. It got to a point where we had a bucket of pucks beside us and our scorekeeper/timekeeper, he was the one looking down and picking up the extra pucks and putting them in my hands so I could keep my eye on the game. The snowbanks were maybe only a foot high. The pucks were going out quite often. That happened a lot in the upper-level games. It was two 15-minute running-time halves. I was probably throwing out 15-20 pucks each half. About one a minute.
USAH: What was the quality of play in those upper-level games?
Hotchkiss: I would say there are probably some ex-college guys there, when you’re talking about the 21+ advanced league. There was a 30+ advanced league. Those guys were really good stickhandlers.
USAH: As the weekend is going along, what was a ref’s schedule like?
Hotchkiss: The days started Friday morning at 7:45 a.m. and the last games were at 3:15 p.m. You’d be surprised how tired you got. You didn’t have continuous games, but I had eight games on Friday.
USAH: Eagle River is a small town (population 1,400) in northern Wisconsin. How’d the town do as a host?
Hotchkiss: The amount of effort that the volunteers in Eagle River put in was amazing. The fire department, the police department, members of the hockey club, clubs; everyone in the community came out and volunteered. There were volunteer scorekeepers and timekeepers. There were people collecting pucks that were shot into the snowbanks and running concession stands. It was very well organized. You could tell it was their 11th year doing it.
For more information about officiating the Pond Hockey Event, please click here.
Tag(s): Stripes Newsletter