Already in its fourth year, the New England Pond Hockey Classic has quickly gone from interesting sideshow to regional must-see. I recall vividly the first year – hotels wary of housing dozens of hockey players, restaurants hoping for a few extra bucks, and a few hundred hockey players not quite knowing what to expect. Fast-forward a few years, and the NEPHC has become a booming spectacle of hockey, camaraderie, and (of course) beer, bringing much-needed tourism dollars to a region of New Hampshire best known for its summer exploits.
The weather, as it tends to do, made a statement of its own again this year. After frigid temps spanning two weeks in the middle of January gave Meredith Bay its much-needed ice depth, a sudden flash of warmth and rain two days before the event had many of us on edge and had Scott Crowder and his ice ops team working overtime to maintain each of his 21 rinks. But just as quickly as the warm temperatures arrived they departed, and Team Crowder’s efforts coupled with the impeccable timing of sub-32-degree temps made for some of the best ice conditions the event has seen.
Of course, you wouldn’t know it by observing Crowder on Friday. I spent Friday roaming around the rinks, taking in the sounds of steel on hard outdoor ice, the shouts of players, and the cracking of beer cans, and inevitably I’d come across the commissioner and his crew tending to one emergency after another. A crack that needed attention on Rink 12. An unskateable patch on Rink 8 (the backyard-hockey.com rink, of course). A team arriving to the rinks without knowing what rink they were playing on. If he wasn’t tending to his 21 sheets and a handful of forgetful team captains, he was chatting it up with sponsors, repeat participants, and spectators – all activities that fall under the wide job description of pond hockey tournament director. But while his stress level likely hovered around a 10 for most of the weekend, it wasn’t shared by any of the participants. Walking around the rinks, I heard not a single word of complaint about the crack on 12, the patch on 8, or any scheduling issues. Nope. Not a one. Because even if the rink you were playing on needed some love, or if the team you were playing against showed up 10 minutes late because they forgot their schedule, you were still wearing hockey skates and a bucket, hanging out with your buddies, and carving up the lake approximately 10,000 miles away from your office desk. A crack in the ice? Sure as hell beats a printer jam.
I took about 700 pictures on Friday, but will only bore you with about 1/10th of them. If my words haven’t talked you into participating in February 2014, perhaps some of the images below will. Thanks to Scott, his ice ops crew, the participants, and sponsors for making the 2013 NEPHC such a great event, one that brings hockey to the forefront of the New Hampshire mainstream, even just for a weekend.