Nearly 500 players and 77 teams turned out for the first annual New England Pond Hockey Classic at Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith, N.H., this past weekend. It was a wholesome New England tradition at its best and everyone on hand was caught up in the spirit of the event.
Regardless of skill level, age or gender — and even if you had found the courage to dust off your skates for the first time in 10 years — there was something for everyone. The engaging play and lack of full contact made it accessible for players in all brackets. With the surrounding snow-capped mountains and scenic, small-town architecture in the background, it was a storybook setting for the players and fans in attendance.
As you approached the lake, there were games taking place simultaneously on seven different rinks. The pond-hockey experience was in full force as the nets were made of wooden blocks with two foot-long-slots on the ends. On the sides of the rinks, there were stacks of hay used as benches and, as usual, the only “zambonis” in action were players doing their best to shovel the ice prior to their matches. There was a separate ice surface just behind the rinks where youngsters could skate around freely while the action was going on around them.
The turnout for the event was outstanding. In fact, the crowd grew throughout the weekend and you couldn’t have asked for a better setting in terms of location and community atmosphere. The scents were reminiscent of an outdoor fair, with the aromas of sausage and cigar carts parked alongside the rinks. A helicopter was even on hand giving rides around the lake and offering views from the best seat in the house.
Tournament creator and director Scott Crowder was thrilled with the results of the first NEPHC.
“I couldn’t be happier with the weekend’s outcome,” he said. “The feedback from the participants and onlookers was tremendous. For next year’s event, we’ll know exactly what can be improved and what can be changed or done differently.”
With the hype and buzz surrounding the tournament, there are already plans to expand next year’s affair.
“As this event goes forward, we would like to start expanding by at least being able to accommodate the 40 additional teams we had to wait-list this year,” said Crowder. “That would already bring us up to 120 teams, which, for only being in our second year of operation, would be incredible.”
The purpose of the event was to “bring hockey back to the basics,” Crowder said, and it did just that. As the games went on, it was like watching a group of children trapped in adult bodies playing the way they’d grown up with the game — on the pond. After even lacing up my skates to play in one of the games, it definitely felt like the kind of hockey I grew up playing and cherishing as a child. And it doesn’t get much better than that.
From the former NHLers to the college stars to the recreational beginners, the players were there for the same reason: to take part in a festive New England tradition. The competition was clearly secondary to having fun and reconnecting with your inner child.
It was a truly unique event and is something to mark on next year’s calendar for the first weekend in February.