As the sport of pond hockey has grown from a niche hobby to a legitimate business and fundraising vehicle, corporations, charitable organizations, and municipalities have taken notice. Hockey-friendly entities like Molson, Labatts, and Pabst headline events throughout North America. Non-profits like the Lindsay Leigh Kimmett Memorial Foundation use events like the Kimmett Cup Pond Hockey Championship to raise money for scholarship programs and athletic grants. And cities and towns are beginning to use pond hockey tournaments as a way to bring in much-needed revenue, both for the municipalities themselves and for the local businesses that welcome tournament participants.
In my hometown of Manchester, NH, perhaps one of the most well-known and successful organizations is our local AHL franchise, the Manchester Monarchs. First and foremost, they are a professional hockey team — a group of young men whose goal is to make it to their parent club, the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. To those players, the Monarchs are a stepping stone to a lifelong dream, and a necessary stop on their way to the show.
But for the community as a whole, the Monarchs represent much more. Besides providing an opportunity to showcase the game at a very high level 41 times a year, the organization is omnipresent in the community. The Monarchs Care Foundation, established in 2001, the team’s first year, has donated more than $1.6 million to charities throughout the state. Players, some of them still clean-shaven teenagers, partake in a number of charitable initiatives throughout the year. Golf tournaments, school visits, and the ever-popular Monarchs At Your Service dinner all help inject the team into the lives of the people who live here, helping those in need along the way.
Now they too have been bitten by the pond hockey bug.
“The success of the Pond Hockey Classic up in the Lakes Region had us all thinking a little bit,” says Monarchs President Darren Abbott, speaking of the 2010 New England Pond Hockey Classic. “We wanted to do something to show that the Monarchs support all levels of hockey, so we decided to do our own thing.”
That “thing” has become the first annual Manchester Monarchs Pond Hockey Classic. Teaming up with the director of the New England and Lake Champlain Pond Hockey Classics, Scott Crowder, the Monarchs will host this one-day event on Dorrs Pond in Manchester, NH, on Saturday, February 12th. The layout will be familiar to past PHC participants, with 32 teams of 4-6 players going four-on-four on five 75′x150′ sheets of natural ice. Teams are guaranteed 3 games, with a pair of playoff games possible for the teams with the best record. Registration is $360 per team, and includes a ticket for each team member to the Friday, February 11th Monarchs game, where the event will be recognized.
The tournament itself will certainly create memories for all who participate, but more importantly, proceeds from the event will be donated to two of the city’s high school hockey programs.
“The public high school hockey programs are in need of some assistance, so we thought that this was one way that we could get the word out about that and raise them some money at the same time,” says Abbott. “We’re hoping to get the high schools involved in the fundraising portion of it as well.”
Besides the on-ice action, the Manchester tournament will feature off-ice activities for kids, including an appearance by the team’s popular mascot, Max. There are also talks with local bars and restaurants near Dorrs Pond, and the hope is to offer tournament participants incentives to patronize those establishments.
“We’re going to start small this year and grow it in the years to come,” Abbot says. “I haven’t talked to anyone who doesn’t think it’s a great idea, and I think there’s plenty of room for it here in Manchester. We like to be a part of all things hockey here in New Hampshire, so we want to continue to try to grow the sport, and continue to move it forward.”
Looking at the growing number of pond hockey tournaments sprouting up all over the continent, and recognizing the groups of people involved, it’s amazing that it has taken this long for outdoor hockey events to reach the mainstream. But now that they have, everyone stands to benefit. Each event displays the game of hockey in its purest form, the participants will take home new and unique memories, local businesses will benefit from the players and fans around the venues, and thanks to charitable people like Scott Crowder and organizations like the Manchester Monarchs, much-needed funds will be raised for deserving charities.
One team will emerge as the victor in the inaugural Manchester Monarchs Pond Hockey Classic. But it’s the City of Manchester, its citizens, and its hockey community that will truly score.