“Is it February 2011 yet?”
Such was the general sentiment as we begrudgingly made our way back to ‘real life’ late Saturday afternoon after playing our last game (and drinking our last Labatt’s) at the first annual New England Pond Hockey Classic. Scott Crowder and his crew did an incredible job in putting on this event, and that fact is made even more impressive when I overheard him say that he’d never so much as attended a pond hockey tournament prior to single-handedly putting this one on.
I have a zillion thoughts on the whole weekend, so I’m just going to pour them out, bulleted-list style:
- First off, our results. Friday was a downer, as we lost both games. We had a very good team, chock full of college hockey experience, but truth be told, we didn’t know what we were doing for the first two games. I take significant responsibility, because as a natural defenseman, I spent a lot of time chasing the puck around, playing ‘forward-ish’, and generally flying around with the mindset that “pond hockey = gliding around with zero positioning”. The first game saw us roar back from a 6-4 defecit in the second half to take the lead, 7-6, with two minutes remaining, only to give up a pair of goals in the waning seconds and lose 8-7. In the second game it was more of the same, resulting in an 11-8 setback. I can even remember saying to whomever was next to me after the game, “What is it that these other teams are doing that we’re not?” I was perplexed. Well, that thing that we were not doing was playing sound positional hockey. Our Saturday morning game was against the hilariously-named Peter North Stars (complete with matching jerseys that had the word ‘PETER’ just to the left of the old Minnesota NHL logo). The PNSs had torn through the competition on Friday and appeared to be the team to beat, so we were not at all excited about the prospects for the remainder of the weekend. But after a quick pre-game chat about playing positions, we blasted out of the gate and took a 7-0 lead before the PNS even had a shot on net. We ended up blowing them away by a score of 12-5. We continued that in our Saturday afternoon game with a 15-2 win, giving us hope that we’d make the playoffs on Sunday. But alas, we had dug too deep a hole on Friday, and just as soon as we had figured out how to win, we were out of the tournament. Several spectators said we were the best team in the tournament on Saturday; maybe so. But that only makes Friday hurt worse. Congrats to Paddy’s from Cambridge on the Open Division win. We will most certainly see you next year.
- The ice conditions were actually pretty poor, and surprised me when we arrived on Friday. I know how hard Scott’s crew worked on the ice in the weeks leading up to the event, so to see 2″ to 5″ gashed intersecting between all seven rinks surprised me. But I quickly learned about dealing with ice on a large, natural lake, and where each team played on the same sheet, nobody was at a disadvantage over anyone else. But considering I obsess over every bump and fill every crack in my backyard, I was not at all used to the bumpy, crevasse-infused sheets we played on this weekend. All of that said, aside from moving this event indoors, there is just no way to manage the ice any better than the NEPHC gang did this weekend. Kudos to them and a huge thanks for all of their hard work.
- The buzz in the town was dulled a bit on Friday, a combination of the fact that the lay person was likely at work and that this was the first-ever NH-based pond hockey tournament. I was happy to have my family there on the tournament’s first day, but aside from a few randoms, there wasn’t much in the way of spectatorship. That all changed drastically on Saturday. Thousands of people lined the banks that abutted four rinks, and more lined each rink on the lake itself. We were lucky enough to play on ‘the main court’ (Rink One), where most of the Open Division games were played. Our Saturday games had spectators 3-deep around the perimeter, our wonderful fan base (anchored by family members and coworkers alike) infused by the free-flowing Labatts and the buzz of competition. Think the gallery from Happy Gilmore, without the beer-can helmets. But to play in such intimate quarters (no boards, no glass) with such a loud and excited group of fans is something that you can’t help but feed off of. As this event grows and the town businesses witness firsthand the economic boost given to them by a bunch of hungry (and thirsty!) hockey players and fans, I have to think the ambiance will get even better.
- Speaking of thirsty hockey players, what a HUGE boost this must have been to the local watering holes. I would think this would otherwise be a bit of a quiet few months in the lakes region of NH before the summer vacation season heats up again. But if there’s one thing that gets the wallets of hockey players to fly open it’s hockey conversation, good company, and the promise of Labatt’s beer in mass quantities. The fine folks at Amoskeag Beverages were more than hospitable, providing several area bars with truckloads of the stuff, in addition to running specials and promotions all weekend long. The end result was bar after bar of folks who share in the love of hockey, conversation, and Labbatt’s alike. The families even got in on the fun, with my own RJ getting a bunch of attention as he bounced around Lago with his CCM helmet on, and a member of the Open-Division-winning Paddy’s squad carrying around his young baby as he nursed a bottle of liquid recovery. But before the DCYF bombards my inbox, you have to understand the scene: it was simply a few hundred hockey players sharing the roots of their sport with their spouses and the next generation of hockey players, some of whom will no doubt grace the ice at Meredith Bay in a few years. Every bar we visited was the same: catching up with old friends, meeting a bunch of new ones, and soaking in the awesomeness of a great event.
I’ll leave you with some 40 or so of the 300 pictures my mom took over the course of the weekend. A huge thank you to her and all the people who stood outside in the freezing cold to cheer on a bunch of washed-up, sweaty, stinky hockey players. It was quite warm for those of us on the ice with the heat of competition flowing through our viens, but I know for sure that it was not warm at all for those watching. Lastly, thank you to Scott and the people who made the NEPHC a reality. We’ll see you in 2011!