Special to USAHockey.com
Ask Southwest Grafix player-manager Gene Rosek about his favorite memories from the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships, and he doesn’t necessarily talk about the hockey.
What happened off the ice will be imbedded in the players’ minds forever.
“Our first year there was phenomenal,” said Rosek, whose team will be making its fifth trip from Indiana to the Pond Hockey Championships at Eagle River, Wis. in 2013. “The Stanley Cup was there and we had our picture taken with it.
“Neal Broten [who played on 1980 Miracle on Ice team and the 1995 Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils] was there. We were sitting in the clubhouse and saw him wearing a Stanley Cup ring. Seeing that ring got the story started. We got to spend the next couple of days with Neal Broten.”
The Stanley Cup wasn’t the only photo op for Southwest Grafix.
“One year Dave Christian [another member of the Miracle on Ice team] was there and we got pictures of him,” Rosek said. “When they bring together names and people like that it throws more into the nostalgia scene. I graduated [high school] in’81 and watched Broten and Christian win the gold medal [at the 1980 Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid].”
There was another year when Rosek was walking across a parking lot and saw a man wearing a U.S. Olympic Team jacket.
“This guy asked me where I was from, and I said Evansville,” Rosek said.
“He asked if I knew a guy named Joey Modafferi. He said he coached him in juniors in the late ‘70s in New York.
“Turns out he was the  Olympic coach, Lou Vairo. When we were kids playing pond hockey, guys I just mentioned were our heroes. It was great to meet them all.”
According to Rosek, pond hockey isn’t a lifestyle for most areas of Indiana as compared with states like Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“What we have here is an industrial state, so we have a lot of transfer people because of people switching jobs,” Rosek said. “For guys who grew up in Michigan and Minnesota, it’s phenomenal because we hadn’t been able to do this in years.
“It’s a nostalgia thing. It brings us back to the past.”
Besides Indiana native Rosek, other team players include Matt Sarno (Indiana), Bill Madeau (Indiana), Pete Rhoutson (Indiana), Mike Donovan (Chicago), Bill Edwards (Winnipeg) and Andzrejn Sczdzinski (Poland).
“Andrezjin played in our men’s league for four years and went back to Poland a few years ago,” Rosek said. “He flies over here every year to visit friends for a week and specifically to play in nationals.
“The primary purpose of his trip is [to play] pond hockey.”
Initially Southwest Grafix began sponsoring a team 12 years ago that plays in USA Hockey’s Adult Classics. But in order to do so, the team had to be registered with USA Hockey.
“When you register, you get [USA Hockey Magazine] in the mail,” Rosek said. “There was an issue the year before we went [to Eagle River] where we saw a cover story on ‘We’re With Mugsy’ and a headline about the pond hockey tournament. We said we have to try this.
“We took six of the core guys from our adult classic team and decided to try pond hockey. If the guys have to miss anything all year long, this is the one thing they won’t miss.”
Even though Southwest Grafix has played in numerous tournaments, the Pond Hockey Championships in a sense jump off the page.
“The USA Hockey staff and the locals in Eagle River do an absolutely wonderful job with hospitality and organization,” Rosek said. “There are 300-plus teams and more than 500 games. Everything starts on time and I’ve never seen a glitch.
“In general, it’s the best hockey event I’ve ever been to. I haven’t talked to anybody who’s said anything different.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.