It would have been hard to find a more experienced team at the 2017 Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships than the guys from Verbero.
Every member played some level of college hockey. However, that doesn’t hold a lot weight on the pond in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
But it’s got to help a little, right?
“Nope,” said team member Shawn McCloud, who played Division III at Lake Forest College in Illinois. “Not at all. The ice is so different.”
The five guys who played club hockey at Michigan State agree it’s a totally unique feeling.
“We all play together in men’s league, but it may take a game or two to get used to each other out here and get used to the ice,” said Brian Hennessy, who played for the Spartans in the ACHA. “It’s a little different than a clean sheet.”
The ice conditions certainly dictate how teams play, but the Verbero team members love the atmosphere of playing on the pond. It was their second year playing as a unit.
“It’s magical,” said McCloud, who was in his first year competing. “It’s like when we skated as a kid and it’s real life now and we’re adults.
“To see hockey in his purest form is really fun.”
Added Hennessy: “You can’t really describe it; it’s a different world up here.”
Hennessy played for the fourth time in the tournament — the first two years with other teams.
“I came up here and I had no idea about this,” said Hennessy, who lives just outside of Chicago. “I had the idea like, my buddies would love this, so I decided to get my own team together. It’s one of the favorite weekends of the year for us. It’s always a blast.”
Verbero, which is sponsored by the hockey equipment manufacturer of the same name, competed in the Silver 21+ Division and went 2-1. The team was downed 14-8 in the tournament opener, but bounced back for 16-5 and 13-3 victories. However, the guys missed out on the playoffs. In 2016, the team advanced to the semifinals before losing.
The players, who are all a part of adult leagues in the respective cities they live in, range in age from 27-31. They have their plan mapped out for pond hockey for the next couple of years.
“We’re vying to get into the 30+ Division, so that’s what we want,” McCloud said. “We’re just three years away from that.”
It took the guys a little while to get acclimated to one another on the ice and try to figure out the ideal methods on the pond.
“You can’t really stick handle, you have to have a strategy we didn’t have in the first game, so we’re getting used to it,” McCloud said. “You can’t really do anything with the stick. You just kind of slap the puck around and hope it bounces the right way.”
Five of the players were on the team in 2016 and two were added this past year.
“A couple guys had kids this year, so they couldn’t make it and we have to bring in a couple new guys,” Hennessy said. “We have a lot of different guys coming in and out, but it’s a good mix.”
The guys weren’t too concerned about scoring victories even though they are competitive athletes. They just wanted to have a good time and see buddies they don’t get a chance to hang out with too often.
“That’s another thing, it’s nice to get everybody together for a weekend like this,” Hennessy said. “We don’t get to see the two guys from California often, so it’s a good weekend to get away. Up here is great.”
Verbero is looking to have a team back at pond hockey for 2018 and have a stable roster of players. Hennessy and McCloud both won’t be missing any tournaments in the years to come.
“It’s just tradition. We all look forward to it all year,” Hennessy said. “We all talk to each other, get emails going. We love it. We’ll definitely be coming back.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.