Photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Photo right: A record 275 teams entered the 12th annual LaBott Blue US Pond Hockey Tournament this year. The event was held on Lake Nokomis Jan. 26-29. Considered the greatest pond hockey tournament in the country, the event has been covered variously by the Today Show, Good Morning America, the NY Times, the LA Times, the Wall Street Journal, and NPR. In other words, it’s become something of a phenomenon.
Photo left: Todd Studer played the national anthem to signal the start of playtime on tournament Friday at 8:30am sharp. The morning temperature hovered around 17 degrees. Studer finished playing, put his trumpet away, and went off to ref the first game. A former Edison High School hockey player, he proudly wore his jersey to the tournament.
Photo right: The goal of the event is to break even, after making donations to DinoMights (a Minneapolis hockey youth development program), the Metropolis Foundation, and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.
Photo below: Most pond hockey enthusiasts grew up in cold places, playing hockey on their frozen backyard ponds or those of their neighbors. No paying for rink time, no early morning practices, no fancy equipment. To hear the tournament organizers describe it: pond hockey is just about a pair of skates, a puck, a stick, and for some extra protection, maybe a wad of newspaper duck-taped across shins.
Photo right: Natalee Wiebe of Claremont, CA, travels around the country sometimes playing on women’s teams and sometimes playing on men’s teams—as she did on Friday. She said, ”I just slide in wherever I can to get ice-time.”
Photo left: Left: Pond hockey is played on a short sheet of ice with no goalie. To score a goal, a player smacks the puck into one of two holes in a wooden goal frame that measures 24” x 72”. Playtime is two 15 minute periods. The action is fast.
Photo right: Charlye McMillan was one of about 200 volunteers that helped out over the weekend. She said, “I don’t skate, but a lot of my friends do. It’s just a fun atmosphere that I love being part of.” Volunteer jobs include set up and take down, score runner, player check-in, ice operator, and indoor or outdoor floater.
Photo right: Brian Herbert (third from left) of Boston, MA, said, “Hands down, this is our favorite weekend of the year. It top birthdays, Christmas, every major and minor holiday. I’ve been skating with these guys since I was three years old. This is a place where we can all be kids again.”
Photo left: Right: Twenty-five rinks were laid out for competition, as well as two rinks for family skating. Many of the teams traveled from across the country to compete on frozen Lake Nokomis. The teams were divided into five different classes, each of which crowned a champion.