SIDNEY — Saturday at the 2018 Maine Pond Hockey Classic and Polar Bear Dip had it all: hockey players dressed in bikini T-shirts, flowing beer, Colby College football players in their underwear and a man wearing a homemade Viking costume.

This year’s event, held again at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts, featured 65 teams and nearly 500 participants from all over New England and parts of Canada. They had players of all ages wearing jerseys representing teams like Hat-Trick Swayze, Jagr-meijsteer and Box Fourmation. Tournament director Patrick Guerette said everything was going great despite some challenging weather conditions.

“It’s not bad weather, but it’s not great, because it’s warming up, which hurts our ability to maintain the ice the way we want to,” Guerette said. “But everything is awesome right now.”

While early day games were being played on the nine tournament rinks, about 35 people were jumping into the icy waters in the name of charity.

The 25th annual Polar Bear Dip benefits the Kids’ Kitchen at the Alfond Youth Center, which marketing director Crista Lavenson said serves 50,000 hot meals and snacks yearly to about 200 Maine children.

Tony Tuell, of Silver Street Tavern in Waterville, was the first to take the plunge into the frigid 4-foot-deep cutout in Messalonskee Lake. He was dressed in stars-and-stripes pants and remained in the icy water until the rest of his team jumped.

Tuell’s team raised the most money – $3,100 – last year, and Tuell set a goal to raise $5,000 this time. He said he saw Gov. Paul LePage in Waterville and told him about his goal, and the governor said he offered to match the donation. Tuell said he’d be contacting the governor’s office this week because his team raised about $6,000.

“Keeping kids fed is huge, because you don’t want to send a kid home hungry,” Tuell said while trying to warm up after climbing out of the water. “It’s why we do it.”

Next in the water was a group of football players from Colby College, including 2-time plunger Travon Bradford, a sophomore offensive tackle. He said the feeling you get when hitting the water doesn’t compare with what it feels like crashing into a defensive lineman on the football field.

“It definitely felt better than last year, so I had to do a cannonball,” Bradford said. “You go under and it feels like you’re never coming back up. Then the shock hits you and you have to climb out.”

Allen Bernier said he made his Hagar the Horrible costume to wear at comic conventions, though he said he recently found out that he has almost 100 percent Norse ancestry. He has been doing polar plunges and icy jumps for charity since 1979, when he did his first jump in Alaska while in the U.S. Coast Guard. He said it’s for a good cause – food insecurity – and it’s a fun activity.

“I volunteer at the Waterville Homeless shelter in the food pantry and I’m going to school for social work, so this is my whole life,” Bernier said. “The amount of food we waste is hard to believe, and a lot of people don’t know what to do with the food they have.”

Guerette, who serves as the operations director for the Alfond Youth Center, said he wants to continue to grow the pond hockey tournament and hopes one day to have a 100-team event. He is hoping that he’ll also be able to add a women’s division soon.

There were several co-ed teams and a few with all women, including Box Fourmation, a rowdy bunch of former college hockey players from around Maine.

Led by coach Jordan Finley, the group said they are playing the tournament to represent all the female hockey players in Maine. They skated clad in white T-shirts with painted bikini tops and bottoms, front and bank, with their last names or nicknames written in colorful fonts.

There was rain forecast for Saturday night, and Guerette said he hoped it wouldn’t impact the final day of the tournament.

He has a crew that works hard putting the rinks together and managing the ice conditions throughout the three-day event, and he’s confident there wouldn’t be any major problems heading into Sunday.

“The players are the ones that make the event, because they’re the ones who help recruit other teams and other players,” Guerette said. “For them, hockey is No. 4 or No. 5 on the list of what they look forward to about coming here.

“It’s about hanging out and having a good time with friends and family,” he said.

Jason Pafundi can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

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