Brad Bosse and his pals were united by high school hockey while growing up in Lewiston and Auburn. More than a decade later, all these 30-somethings needed was a nearby pond hockey tournament to reunite them on the ice.

Two years ago, Bosse and seven friends played in the inaugural Maine Pond Hockey Classic on China Lake – during a blizzard, no less – and a tradition began. Last year they brought a tent and beer and won the open division as they joked about some of them winning the Class A title at Lewiston High in 2002.

“It’s about bragging rights,” Bosse said of the Maine Pond Hockey Classic. “It’s about mutual respect because everyone on the ice is so passionate about it.

“The thing about pond hockey, it’s not a bunch of all-stars. There are college players who are so much better. But pond hockey is such a level playing field. There are skiffs and bumps, and the puck can go either way.”

This year, the tournament will be a two-day event in Sidney with 40 teams. Founder Patrick Guerette hopes to grow the Maine Pond Hockey Classic into a three-day event with more than 100 teams. The players think he can do it.

“Pond hockey is not only big in New England, it’s big in North America. There are other large national tournaments so much bigger than 100 teams. I do believe it could grow bigger than that in the next few years,” Bosse said.

Pond hockey tugs at the heart of many Mainers. Just ask the most successful hockey player to call the state home.

Eric Weinrich, who played high school and college hockey here before going on to a 20-year pro career, said his love of hockey began on a Maine pond.

“I started skating in Poland on Tripp Lake. I think I was 3 or 4,” said Weinrich, of Yarmouth. “It was within walking distance of our house. When we first moved there my parents got everyone on skates. We got sticks and pucks and went down there almost every day that we could. It definitely is the best experience I’ve had with hockey. There are no rules. Kids just out there playing on any team. Everyone just picks a side and plays.”

Pond hockey is a scaled-down version of what’s played inside rinks. There are no offsides, no set positions and no net. It requires a team of four players, rather than six. And there are no goalies. Players shoot at a little wooden box instead.

“It’s about the purist form of hockey you can find. I think pond hockey tournaments bring it right back to where it started,” said Weinrich, who played for the U.S. in the 1988 Olympics and on eight NHL teams.

Guerette was on to something when he started the Maine Pond Hockey Classic on China Lake two years ago.

Following in the success of the New England Pond Hockey Festival in Rangeley, he decided to create a tournament closer to Maine’s population centers. After two years on China Lake, he’s moving the tournament to Messalonskee Lake and the Snow Center for the Arts.

This year, teams will come from virtually every New England state, as well as from around southern Maine, Guerette said.

“This offers a chance for more players to come to it. They can stay at home and still drive here for the games. We’re pretty accessible,” Guerette said.

The event started as a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club at the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville, where Guerette is program director. It raised a few thousand dollars each of the past two years. But Guerette said he’s only getting started.

“I started playing hockey very late, not until I was in high school. I learned to play on a pond. Then I played for Lawrence High School and we weren’t very good. That’s how I was able to play,” Guerette said.

“I’m in it until global warming means we don’t have ice anymore.”

The tournament drew 14 teams two years ago and 24 teams last year. At least 40 teams are expected to take the ice this year on the weekend of Feb. 7-8. Many already say they’ll be back next year.

“It’s kind of hard to get away to Rangeley. This is basically right in my back yard. I’ve always wanted to play in one. It’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Dan Keeley, a Kents Hill hockey coach who has competed the past two years in the 40-plus division. “It’s true pond hockey, exactly as we played it as kids. There are already more teams than last year. I think it’s inevitable it will keep growing.”