December 30, 2012

Deirdre Fleming: On frozen pond, hockey the way it was played before the rinks

Pond hockey in Maine dates back generations, and among aging puck nuts is still considered a time of celebration. But so far few tournaments exist in the state.

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Pond hockey should be a natural fit in Maine, with its cold winter temps and ample bodies of frozen fresh water.

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Well, Patrick Guerrette, for one, can't figure out why, so he is organizing the first Maine Pond Hockey Classic.

The tournament will be on China Lake outside Augusta on Feb. 9 and 10. It will follow the state's only long-standing pond hockey tournament, the seventh annual New England Pond Hockey Festival in Rangeley, which will be held Feb. 1 to 3.

The Maine Pond Hockey Classic will help raise money for the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA at the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville, where Guerette is the health coordinator.

Guerette said the sport of pond hockey has a huge grass-roots following, and the fact few tournaments in Maine exist is not a concern. He thinks the Classic will draw.

Interested players think so.

"They're having it in a great area: Waterville and Augusta. Both those communities have had a long tradition of having hockey around," said Michael Roy, the Waterville tow manager (and former Waterville High hockey player).

"Many people don't realize at one time there were just five high school hockey teams in Maine in the mid 1970s, and Waterville was one. I have reason to believe they'll be successful,"

Ian Gould, owner of the Kennebec Skate Shop in Hallowell, thinks if the players have a good time the first year, the tournament will explode because hockey in Maine is played by a close-knit and passionate community.

"Pond hockey kind of died down a little and seems to be picking up, especially in this area. A lot of people are more interested in getting back to the roots of the game and playing outdoors," Gould said.

Wendy Haskell, who plays in adult leagues in Portland, plans to check out the tournament the first year.

Haskell grew up playing pond hockey, but as an adult only has competed at indoor rinks for women's leagues, co-ed leagues and travel teams. She's excited a new pond hockey tournament is starting, but will learn the game first.

Pond hockey rules require four players on a team playing without a goalie or on-ice officials, whereas indoor hockey is played between teams that consist of five skaters and a goalie.

"I love the idea of real old-fashioned hockey. Growing up, our neighborhood gang would find a puddle that was frozen, scrape off the stems of twigs, and just skate with sticks. I developed an early love of hockey, but didn't start playing until I was 43," said Haskell, 56.

Ryan Sweeney, a Millinocket native, said the youth travel league he played for as a kid only played outside. And he savors the memories.

"It was that way for 25 years. The rink is still there for the public. It's just some of the best memories skating outside. As long as it was cold enough, it would last through February. I lived down at the rink," Sweeney said.

Sweeney also has never played in a pond hockey tournament, even though he constantly played pond hockey growing up.

He plans to compete in and volunteer for the Classic on China Lake.

"Pond hockey is a big deal in Maine. And when my family now goes to Madawaska to visit my wife's family, I bring my skates, go across the border, and play in the little rink in Edmundston. I don't speak French. With hockey, it doesn't matter. There is no language barrier in hockey," Sweeney said.

The Maine Pond Hockey Classic entry cost is $450 per team before Tuesday, or $525 per team after the new year. Each team will play a minimum of four games.

To learn more about the Maine Pond Hockey Classic, email pguerette@alfondyouthcenter.org, or call 873-0684.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph


 

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