To borrow a line from the U.S. Post Office, neither snow nor freezing rain nor a crippling ice storm can keep the USA Hockey ice crew from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
With years of experience under their belts, the crew of Jeremy Kennedy, Cory Portner, John Monteleone, Brandon Klement and Brian Scheid know to expect the unexpected when it comes to carving the 24 rinks out of the deep snow blanketing Dollar Lake, the site of the 14th annual Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships.
Of course, it helps to have the Herculean efforts of the Eagle River (Wis.) Fire Department to do much of the heavy lifting – or in this case plowing – to prepare for the first puck to drop on Friday morning.
Those efforts were pushed back a day as an ice storm that, according to tournament director Katie Holmgren, basically shut down the town of Eagle River on Monday and delayed much of the set up. But as dawn broke over Dollar Lake on Wednesday morning, things were beginning to take shape prior to the arrival of the 280 teams that will take over the town this weekend.
“The setup is complete and now it’s simply a matter of making everything look good,” said Holmgren, who is in her eighth year of running the event.
Five massive tents line the shoreline to create shelter from the wind and cold for the army of volunteers needed to put on an event of this size. There’s also a tent where players can lace up their skates and enjoy concessions including world famous Wisconsin brats and Labatt beer. In addition, the popular Labatt Blue Zone returns to the ice complete with a DJ booth and an ice bar along with various games and activities.
The festivities kick off Thursday afternoon at the Eagle River Derby Track, which will host team check in as well as a corn hole tournament with proceeds going to the USA Hockey Foundation.