Pond hockey tournament honors sport frozen in time

The 116 teams, some led by state politicians, competed for the “Golden Shovel.”

Vadim Lavrusik

With temperatures below freezing and the bitter wind blowing hard, hundreds of hockey fanatics from around the country gathered on Lake Calhoun this weekend to be part of the age-old tradition of pond hockey.

A section of the west end of the lake was shoveled to make room for the 25 rinks of the inaugural U.S. Pond Hockey Championships.

“The event is all about going back to your childhood and playing hockey the way nature intended,” said Fred Haberman, the tournament’s co-founder.

The tournament, billed as the largest such gathering in the nation, came to Minnesota from Canada, where the sport has long been thriving. Players in the four-on-four tournament could not check or raise the puck. There were six players per team. Goals were made of boards with three holes to shoot into, with no goalie on guard. The tournament included open, women’s and senior men’s divisions.

Players played in true pond hockey fashion after clearing the rinks with shovels before play.

With 17-1/2 minute halves, the players could keep toasty during halftime in the warming house off the lake.

The 116 teams in the tournament competed for the “Golden Shovel,” which Haberman, 39, described as “the Stanley Cup of the regular guy.” However, the event included some not so “regular” figures.

The event started off with an exhibition game between politicians. “Team Minnesota,” captained by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, beat St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s team, the “Minnesota White Caps,” 18-12.

“Whenever I get the chance to screw off against the governor, I take it,” said Coleman after the game.

Besides the politicians, the event had a border battle between Gophers and Badgers hockey alumni, where the Badgers skated over the Gophers in a 12-2 victory. The event also featured National Hockey League and former Olympian Phil Housley and the NHL’s all-time leading U.S.-born scorer, former governor and U.S. National Hockey Team player Wendell Anderson.

“I grew up watching hockey, and this is a great way to bring people together,” said Ali Lucia, broadcasting and communications senior. Lucia, whose father coaches the Gophers hockey team, said she came to watch the Gophers alumni and two of her friends play.

When unveiling the plan in October, Haberman planned for 98 teams to compete and was excited when 116 registered. Players from as far away as New York and Florida, as well as from all over the Midwest, came to participate in the event.

“What Sturgis is to motorcyclists, this is to pond hockey fanatics,” said Haberman, comparing the event to the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D.

“We heard there were a lot of booze and a lot of hotties. So we booked our flight,” said Tyler Schremp, who flew in from Fulton, N.Y., to participate in the event. Schremp, 21, said he has played hockey all his life and it seemed natural to come to the event after reading about it in a flier.

Schremp represented one of many East Coast teams competing in the tournament. The tournament included the New York City Firefighters Hockey Club and several teams from Boston.

“Ten days ago, we didn’t know whether the event was going to happen,” Haberman said. “We weren’t sure whether the ice was thick enough with the warm weather we have had, but it was cleared by the park board officials.”

Eighty percent of the proceeds from the event’s $300 registration fee will go to pay for the cost of the event. The remaining 20 percent will be distributed to The Herb Brooks Foundation, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the DinoMights, a youth hockey program. Haberman said he plans on making it an annual event.