But while a backyard rinkbuilder might cuss the warm temperatures because the temps stand between them and their weekly two-on-two, pond hockey tournament directors have significantly more at stake. In the last decade, pond hockey tournaments have sprouted up from coast-to-coast, in large cities and small towns, and on lakes, ponds, and outdoor rinks. Once niche events for only the hardcore, they’ve grown to weekend-long destinations, bringing big-time dollars to places typically barren during the cold winter months. Businesses have taken note, too — companies like Labatts, USA Hockey, and Pabst Blue Ribbon are all title sponsors for pond hockey events. This year, those companies and tournament directors across the continent have had reason to worry.
According to the US National Climactic Data Center, December 2011 ranked “Above Normal” to “Much Above Normal” for all of northern and northeastern United States, home to over 60 pond hockey events. One region in Western Connecticut measured its warmest December ever. Parts of Canada have experienced similar warmth. But you don’t need scientific data to tell tournament directors it’s been warm.
“When I started organizing the inaugural Lake Fenton Winter Classic I had to worry about countless things,” says director Sean Lapham of his Michigan-based event. “How many people would sign up? How was I going to get volunteers? How would the logistics of this event happen? Can I get local and corporate sponsors? Not what would happen if at the begining of January its 50 degrees?”
Lapham is not alone in his bewilderment. Here in New Hampshire, where we haven’t seen a frigid stretch of more than three or four days, the shores of Meredith Bay, home to Scott Crowder’s New England Pond Hockey Classic, are covered with only a thin layer of ice. A hundred yards offshore, site of about half of the NEPHC’s 20 planned rinks, it is still open water. Where last year Crowder’s crew battled several feet of heavy snow, ice, and slush to get the rinks into playable condition, this year it’s the exact opposite.
“Lake Winnipesaukee is behind schedule due to the warm weather,” says Crowder. “Locals say under the right conditions one inch of ice can be made daily, and we need 15 inches to host the event.” With the countdown on the PHC website showing 25 days until puckdrop, there is precious little wiggle room left.
Crowder is still two weeks away from making a decision, but is lining up alternatives just in case. Such alternatives include moving the event to a smaller body of water, which requires less time to freeze to the appropriate thickness. Another local event, the 1883 Black Ice Pond Hockey Championships in Concord, NH, is held on a small pond. It currently has 5 inches of ice.
Fortunately, the weather hasn’t been terrible everywhere, and while it likely goes without saying, the northernmost events are preparing for their weekends just as they have in prior years.
“We are in good shape this year for our 8th annual event,” says Greg MacDiarmid, Publicity Chair of the Miramichi Rotary Pond Hockey Tournament, slated for February 3-5 in New Brunswick, Canada. ” As of last Monday, we had 11 inches of ice, and our normal thickness is usually 24-36 inches. This year is on track for a good time, with cold weather and no snow.”
The word is equally good coming out of Lake Nokomis, site of the US Pond Hockey Championships next weekend. Per their oft-updated blog “Nokomis Live“, Carson and the USPHC team are expecting cold temps to provide the ice they need to run one of the country’s largest events. Ten days out, current ice depths range between eight to ten inches. But frigid temps forecast between now and puckdrop should give them the 13-16 inches they require.
In all, this has been a challenging year for the outdoor skater. While no tournaments have been outright canceled as of this story, several have been pushed back to February. It’ll take a prolonged arctic blast to get all of the ponds and lakes frozen enough, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s that the weather appears to be changing. After a 45-degree day yesterday, our forecast here in New Hampshire is full of sub-30-degree highs and single-digit lows. And that’s just what pond hockey tournament participants want to hear.
We’re busting our hump to keep up with all the changes to our pond hockey tournament listing, so check back frequently if you’re signed up for one or plan on taking a trip out to watch. Our full North American Pond Hockey Tournament Listing can be found here.