Trip to Wisconsin for pond hockey tournament stirs golden memories
ON THE POND
• What: USA Hockey’s Pond Hockey Championships• When: This past February
• Where: Eagle River, Wisconsin
• Houston connection: Marc “Coach”, Meyerland, Lyle “JC”, Clear Lake, and Ed “Fast Eddie Meebs”, West Houston
EVERYBODY has memories in their life about great times in the past. For people that love sports it may have been a choose-up baseball or basketball game. Unfortunately for most people, that’s where it stays. There are no alumni reunions of sandlot baseball or driveway basketball teams.
Marc, Lyle, and Ed, although they grew up in different parts of the country, all have a lot of ice hockey memories of youth games played on frozen lakes, rather than climate-controlled rinks, somewhere.
In February, the trio was presented with the opportunity to travel to Eagle River, Wisc. and play in the USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships, to which their collective answer was “Why not?”. It looked like a great opportunity to relive some of their past lives. Marc, 60, Lyle, 49, (the baby of the group) and Ed, 52, all play recreational hockey on Sunday evenings for the Houston Strength at Ice Skate USA at Memorial City Mall.
At the Pond Hockey Championships the Strength trio played for the Larimer Park Owls. Larimer Park was the pond where [Ed] and childhood friends played their hockey in the Evanston, Ill. area.
Over 140 teams, about 850 players from 21 states, participated in the three-day championships on 18 rinks set up on Dollar Lake. Warming tents for players, concessions stands and the vehicle parking lot were all out on the frozen lake.
The Eagle River fire department made sure the playing surface was in good shape for the next day by drilling a hole through the ice to reach the water, which was then sprayed over the playing surfaces. There wasn’t a Zamboni machine to make sure the ice was nice and smooth. Eagle River, known as the Snow Mobile Capital of the World, has a population of about 1,400 when there are no hockey players in town.
[Ed’s] main concern about the games, after having lived in Houston for the last 22 years, was how he was going to stay warm.
“My blood has thinned a little,” [he] said.
However, he couldn’t wait to play some hockey like he did when he was younger.
“Lacing up the skates while sitting on a snow bank next to a pond or lake, playing with some of my best friends while growing up in Evanston, Illinois,” and his hockey playing friends from Houston, “was incentive enough to brave some cold weather for a weekend,” he said.
Each team in the tournament played three games.
Pond Hockey tournaments have some different rules than regular hockey. Rinks are approximately 75 x 150 feet, surrounded by shoveled snow banks. Hockey goals are 6-inches high and 4-feet wide. There are no goalies and only four members per team. If a puck goes off into a snow bank, players try to dig it out. If the puck is buried too deep, a player yells “puck” and the referee tosses out a new one.
In the course of a game, 15 or more pucks could be used, no slap shots are allowed and finals look more like football scores.
Teams are organized on age and experience, although as [Lyle] said, “four guys that grew up playing hockey in Minnesota were a lot better than four guys that play hockey in Houston.”
“The emphasis was not really on the competition,” said [Marc]. “It was on the unique experience of playing outdoors, playing in minus-12-degree weather, the temperature of our first game. It brought back people together whom you grew up with. I might have played with Lyle as a kid and Lyle moved away. Twenty years later the guys you played with as a kid are reuniting to play in this tournament.”
The other members of their team were friends of [Ed] from his days in Evanston.
“It was almost like we got to meet five more childhood friends that we hung out with the better part of three days, played hockey together, rode in the van together, had a beer and a bratwurst together, froze together in the sub-zero climate. Great camaraderie,” said [Marc]. “We felt like celebrities in Eagle River. Everybody was so nice and so friendly to us wherever we went.”
Even though the Larimer Park Owls only won one game out of three, [Ed], [Lyle] and [Marc] are counting the days to next year’s championships, which will again be held in the same location, and, they hope, the same temperature.
For more info and pictures about this great event, please see this site.