When I first dove into the world of backyard rinks and outdoor hockey, part of the allure was the feeling that you were part of something special. Building a backyard rink placed you into a fraternity of passionate, dedicated, and certifiably insane people who knew exactly what it was like to build a miniature Zamboni out of PVC or spend three hours trying to turn to the slab of ice next to your summer vegetable garden into ice that mimics Madison Square Garden.
The same goes for pond hockey. In pockets of the world with climates that would support it, kids and their parents fed clichés by slinging skates over sticks, clearing a rink, and playing for hours while mom readied the hot chocolate. Sometime in the last decade, a handful of people began organizing tournaments that celebrated the sport, embracing and putting to paper the unwritten rules we’ve all followed for decades. Held in places like Lake Calhoun and Plaster Rock, they were mentioned in the same breath as hot air balloon festivals and county fairs. That’s to say they were hardly mentioned at all.
And then a funny thing happened, seemingly overnight: the whole outdoor hockey niche went mainstream. I wrote earlier this season that this winter was poised to blast outdoor hockey games into a new generation, though that post focused primarily on professional and college games. Now, it seems, it’s time for the amateurs to get their time in the spotlight. No longer are backyard rinkbuilders the crackpot outcasts of the sports community — today they are celebrated and displayed on major media websites (see the Globe link below). Pond hockey tournaments, once the domain of a couple hundred wackos in a 2008 documentary, are sprouting up all over the world, embraced by hockey people and non-hockey people alike. A year ago, a local pond hockey tournament might get a passing mention in the back of the sports section or at the tail end of the nightly news. Now? Just take a look at the media the sport has received just in the last few days:
Boston Globe – Home Ice Advantages
Boston.com’s Backyard Ice Rink Gallery
Associated Press/MSNBC – Pond hockey tourneys return sport to outdoor roots
CBS/Fox Mankato – Largest Crowd Ever For Ford Pond Hockey Tournament
ESPN.com – A hockey purist’s dream
And that’s just from the last few days. Every day Google alerts batter my inbox with news articles, videos, and blog posts from around the world, all discussing the roots of our wonderful game. The ones that Google doesn’t catch end up in my mailbox thanks to helpful readers or friends who know about the site. It used to be that to find solid outdoor hockey content, you’d have to dig deep to find sites like the one you’re reading right now. But now that our little niche is enjoying some mainstream spotlight, it appears you may not have to look all that hard.
For some niche sports, going mainstream implies the selling out of what was once a sacred and little known paradise, like a secret hiking trail in a distant forest suddenly ending up on the cover of National Geographic. But when purist hockey goes big, as it has in recent days, it means that this website’s vision, and the vision of backyard rinkbuilders, pond hockey players, and tournament directors, has been realized. And for the thousands of us involved in the sport’s growth, it’s fun as hell to watch.