by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Long before hockey rinks sprang up all over the northern USA and Canada, the game was, of course, played by ruddy-faced youths on ponds, lakes, and rivers.
In the last few years there’s been a nostalgia for the original version which has spawned a number of pond hockey tournaments in the northern climes, along with an NHL game played outdoors each year.
One of tournaments is the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships held the past six years on Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, sponsored by KFAN.
Among the participating teams is Pond Scum, a local squad including three players from Elk River and five from neighboring towns, all 38 to 42 years old.
“We look forward to this all year,” said Matt Bischoff last Sunday, after the Pond Scum finished their 2011 tournament with a win and two losses, ending a 10-game win streak. Each year there’s three games.
“It’s friendly competition but real good hockey,” said team captain Kent Holme. “It’s fun to play because it’s outside, there’s no checking, and the puck stays on the ice because the goal is so low.”
The format is 4-on-4, with no goaltender, playing two 15-minute halves with a two-minute break. Each team brings eight players. It’s also customary for both teams to shovel snow off the ice prior to games if need be.
The “goal” is a plywood structure six feet wide and six inches high with a 12-inch hole on each end for goals. Kind of like beanbag with skates and pucks.
The Pond Scum went 0-3 in the first year of the tournament, 2006, before McChesney and Bischoff were on the team.
They won all three games they played in 2007, 2008 and 2009. With 48 teams in their division, Rink Rats, for 18-and-up, there’s plenty of 3-0 teams, so the order of finish is decided by fewest goals allowed. The highest Pond Scum finish was seventh place in 2009.
Last year’s tournament’s Sunday portion was called off because it was too warm (a first) so the Pond Scum went into the 2011 tournament with their win streak intact and stretched it to 10 with a 10-2 conquest of a team called Haulin’ Oats in the first round.
Then the Scum got scuttled, twice. They took a 4-1 lead on a Minneapolis team called The Shooters but lost 9-7. Their final foe was Golden Ophers, who had won the whole thing in 2008. The Ophers, consisting of six former prep skaters, and two former basketball players, from Park-Cottage Grove and Hastings, all around 30 years old, beat the Pond Scum 10-7.
“We were 10 and oh, and now we are 10 and two,” said Bischoff. “But those were two of the best teams we’ve played in the four years. And they’re a little younger than us.”
Holme, of Elk River, has played all six years. Todd McChesney, Bischoff and Holme are mid-80′s Elk River graduates. McChesney and Bischoff, who’ve been with the Pond Scum the last four tournaments, played hockey for the Elks under coach Dave Bleyhl. “I didn’t play with the Elks; I was just a rink rat,” said Holme.
The other skaters are Ken Voller and Luke Dahlheimer of Monticello, Barin Norgren from Annandale, Ron Sherwood of Maple Lake, and Dave Olson of Big Lake.
They are family men and there’s usually some wives and kids there to watch.
Games Sunday were played in zero degree weather.
“It’s tough on feet and fingers,” said Bischoff, not complaining. “We put feet warmers (like hunters use) in our skates.” That’s a bit uncomfortable, since skates are made to feet the player’s feet like a glove, but McChesney said a little lumpiness is worth it.
The coldest was 22 below in 2009.
“But it actually got hot, because we had too many clothes on,” said Holme.
The preferred temperature is around 10 above “because then the ice does not get as snowy,” said McChesney.
The Pond Scum are eager to enter each year, and cannot take it for granted because the tournament fills up as quick as a slap shot.
On sign-up day in October, Holme is ready to “make sure I’m at a computer and take an early lunch or a meeting” when the hour approaches so he can enter the team right away. Otherwise, in a half-hour, you won’t get in.”
The Pond Scum’s only complaint is that it’s over too quick. They had their first faceoff 9:30 a.m. Sunday and were done at just past 1 o’clock.
“You barely get started, and then it’s done,” Holme lamented, as the team left the ice on Nokomis.