EAGLE RIVER, Wis. -- Another tournament is in the books.
The 13th annual Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships wrapped up on Sunday with 19 teams bringing home trophies.
The three-day event held on Dollar Lake tucked away in the Northwoods of Wisconsin was a success once again.
“I believe it’s the best one yet,” USA Hockey tournament director Katie Holmgren said. “I feel like every year it seems like it gets better for us. I hope it’s the same for everybody else.”
There were plenty of glowing reviews from participants.
“It seems like everything’s been much more efficient this year,” said Katherine Iverson, who is on the SF Yaks, a Women’s Gold Division team out of California. “I haven’t noticed a huge difference.”
“These are always a blast,” said Mike Dailly, a member of Cobra Kai in the Novice Division. “These are our favorite tournaments.”
“I think it gets smoother every year,” said Scotty Holmes, who played in the tournament for the ninth year with The Original Sicks in 50+ Tier I. “I think they’ve got more teams this year, I believe they have around 300 as opposed to 270 last year. But it gets smoother and smoother every year with the games and all that. What’s nice about it is we do get to park on the ice this year because it’s been cold enough, whereas in years past we’ve had to park off the ice and that’s inconvenient.”
Yes, the biggest difference this year was the ability for some players to be able to park their vehicles on the pond. This is the first time since 2014 that the ice was thick enough support that much weight.
When Holmgren and her crew arrived in Eagle River on the weekend before the start of the tournament, the ice depth on Dollar Lake was 20 inches. Holmgren thought about 100 vehicles were able to park on the pond each day.
“That kind of eased up things on the road and made a little more of an atmosphere for people to stay on the lake,” Holmgren said. “People love it down here.”
Holmgren also noticed a larger number of spectators this year. That was despite the temperatures hovering around the low to mid-teens.
“We sort of had some snowmobile flow that we didn’t have last year,” Holmgren said. “So, we had parking on the ice, snowmobiles on the lake. I think a lot more people stayed down here to watch games.”
“It’s been another great year — the sun’s out, it’s not too cold, the ice is pretty good and everybody’s just friendly,” Holmgren said.
Just under 300 teams participated in this year’s event. That’s a good number for scheduling, noted Holmgren. If too many teams are in the tournament that overloads the USA Hockey staff and its volunteers.
Even though nearly 300 teams got into the tournament, there were still over 300 left in the cold on the waiting list. When teams are available to register online in August, it’s always a frantic race to get signed up in time since spots fill up so quickly.
“Someone compared it the other day to trying to get a Guns ‘N Roses ticket,” Holmgren said.
This year marked a good mix of old and new teams to the pond hockey lineup. Holmgren noticed quite a few new teams were added.
“We always love to see our repeat team, but it’s nice to meet new teams who get to experience the event, too,” Holmgren said.
USA Hockey used the same format for its rink setup this year as it did for 2017. The 24 rinks were split into quadrants of six sheets of ice. There were 12 rinks on each side separated with a large open area and the Blue Zone — a spot where participants can listen to music and enjoy a few frosty beverages provided by the tournament sponsor.
“We think we’ve found a pretty good format with how we lay out rinks and how we set stuff up,” Holmgren said. “We think that works for us and the participants seem to enjoy it.”
The pond hockey tournament is still USA Hockey’s largest event each year, requiring the organization to pour its resources into the event so it will go off without a hitch. But it wouldn’t be so successful each year if it wasn’t for everyone outside of USA Hockey who put in so much time and effort.
“A lot of tournaments, we just go, we call, we rent ice and we get officials and scorekeepers,” Holmgren said. “This is a whole different deal. This is a community event. We rely on the fire department leading up to it and we have volunteer scorekeepers and refs.
“We can’t thank the community of Eagle River enough for everything they do for us on the lead up and while we’re here,” Holmgren said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.