Pond hockey is making its way back to New England. No, it's not the Winter Classic or Frozen Fenway. There's a new outdoor classic on the horizon, celebrating a very unique New England tradition. The first annual New England Pond Hockey Classic is set to take place Friday, Feb. 5, on Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith, N.H.
Tournament creator and former UMass hockey star Scott Crowder, a native of Nashua, N.H., has wanted for years to bring outdoor hockey back to New England. Following his college career, he returned home and focused on creating the tournament. He's managed to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. Crowder's initial meeting with the town of Meredith took place back in October, and he has been on a mission ever since.
"The timing is perfect," Crowder said. "This has been something I've wanted to do for a long time. It's about time to start a Pond Hockey Classic in New England where hockey is already such a rich tradition. This is the first of what we hope to be an annual New England ritual."
Given the amount of interest and hype the tournament has sparked, it's hard to believe that this is only its first year. With over 450 participants and 77 teams ready to lace up their skates Friday morning, Crowder has been forced to wait-list an additional 40 teams after the tournament reached its capacity. Not only has the NEPHC drawn from a solid core of New England-based players, but it also has attracted participants from such faraway places as Georgia and Colorado.
Of course, the anticipation of the first NEPHC wouldn't be as exciting without an element of surprise. There are plenty of hockey legends expected to attend as well. Former Bruins Stephen Leach and Bobby Carpenter, along with former Washington Capitals assistant coach Jay Leach, are expected to be on hand. The highlight of the tournament will be Sunday afternoon, when a group of lucky participants will win the chance to play against a full team of former NHL stars in what has been dubbed the Legends Classic.
Lake Winnipesaukee is located in central New Hampshire, just two hours north of Boston. When the tournament participants get to Meredith, they will think they've traveled back in time.
"I couldn't have asked for a better location to house the event," said Crowder. "The town has been so cooperative throughout the process. The location offers us everything from hotels, shops, restaurants and really just everything we need to put on a great event."
There are seven rinks prepared for the tournament. The players will get a true pond hockey experience with the natural New England scenery surrounding them as they play.
The NEPHC will consist of five divisions playing a four-on-four, round-robin format. The competition levels range from "just for fun" to the most competitive "open" division.
The tournament's goal is to provide New England with a competitive, traditional and spirited hockey experience. Crowder is hoping to "bring hockey back to the basics" and create a wholesome New England experience.
In fact, the tournament itself will be a family affair, as the Crowders look to make their mark on New England hockey with Scott's brother, Kevin Crowder (Northeastern), and their father, Bruce Crowder (a former Bruins player), both lacing up their skates to join the festivities.
In a year in which we already have witnessed a plethora of memorable hockey moments, the first New England Pond Hockey Classic will bring hockey back to the way it was meant to be played.
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