Glen Young 2/16/09
Wearing team sweaters sporting names like The Puck Heads and Here For The Beer, more than 500 hockey fans are expected to descend on St Ignace the weekend of February 21 for the third annual U.P. Pond Hockey Championship.
This Michigan Amateur Hockey Association sanctioned event, sponsored by Labatts, takes place on Moran Bay, ordinarily home to ferry boats and fishing traffic.
Pond hockey has caught on quickly in St Ignace, where organizers are gearing up for more than 100 teams, nearly double last years turn-out. Divisions for women and men in all age groups provide opportunities for any player willing to brave the unpredictable elements.
Event organizer Mark Sposito says the tournament came about because local volunteers had long organized a winter carnival, but were looking for something new to offer. First held in 2007, the event has attracted teams from as far away as Virginia.
Were 100 percent volunteers, he says, noting that the event couldnt happen without local support.
The event is a fundraiser for the St Ignace Youth Hockey Association, and last year provided the group nearly $12,000. Organizers are more enthusiastic than ever.
Were represented by 13 states and some provinces from Canada, Sposito says. Hes also had inquiries from teams stretching from Seattle to New York.
Sposito says he can see the tournament growing to 160 teams, but organizers are wary of the event getting too big, because they dont want to get to the point where people are coming and not having fun anymore. He does acknowledge, however, that the event is not ever going to be maxed-out space-wise.
Pond hockey rules dictate a game played with four skaters per side -- with no goalies -- on a rink 75 feet by 150 feet. The boards are snow banks, and the puck is always live. Referees are stationed at each rink, but serve largely as mediators rather than enforcers. Checking is not allowed, and penalties result in a goal for the other team. Games consist of two 20-minute halves. The six foot wide wood net sits six inches off the ice.
There is live music in the tent, the local food tastes even better when you are cold and hungry after a day of outdoor mayhem, and the town is rocking all weekend, says Betsy Dayrell-Hart, who with husband Clyde, will travel from Virginia to play with the Straits Shooters team in her third event.
A concession tent, serving cold beer and warm food, live bands, and special guests, augments the fun of the games. Last years guests were the Hanson Brothers, the goofy trio of stars from the cult hockey film Slap Shot. This years guests will be a group of Detroit Red Wings Alumni, who will play a game against some of last years tournament winners on Friday night at the Little Bear East Arena.
Scott Winkleman, president of the local youth hockey association and also an event organizer, says the event had the worst possible weather you can imagine during its first year, with strong winds and cold temperatures. It was like skating up hill, adds Dayrell-Hart.
Volunteers wondered if anyone would come back the next year. Their fears were alleviated when the number of teams doubled, and skaters enjoyed the most ideal weather you can imagine, according to Winkleman, with bluebird skies and moderate temps.
Organizers are also busy preparing for a youth pond hockey tournament the weekend of February 28. Sponsored by USA Hockey, this will be a pilot program, as there is no other youth tournament in the country.
This years events will be helped by the addition of a zamboni. Organizers found the used machine in Negaunee, and will utilize it to keep up ice conditions between games.
Each adult team is guaranteed three games in the tourney. The pucks drop Friday at noon, with the championships scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Team registration fee is $300.
For more information visit the St Ignace Visitors Bureau at www.stignace.com,www.stignace.com, or call Mark Sposito at 1-906-643-7482.