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Pond Hockey Players Revel in Return to Dollar Lake

02/08/2016, 8:45am MST
By Greg Bates - Special to USAHockey.com

11th Annual Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey Nationals A Smashing Success

EAGLE RIVER, Wis. – There truly is no place like home for pond hockey.

After holding last year’s Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships at the World Championship Derby Track due to ice conditions and player safety concerns, the 11th annual tournament returned to its original roots on Dollar Lake.

The overwhelming consensus from the pond hockey participants was they were extremely excited to be back on the grand pond on the east side of Eagle River.

“It kind of felt like coming home when we got to come back up to the lake on Friday,” said Four Loko player Colleen Crowley, who has competed in the tournament six years. “It was just so much better that Mother Nature cooperated this year.”

“It’s the best pond in the world right now,” said Beer Ninjas player Jim Shane, a nine-year veteran of the tournament. “This is it.”

Tournament director Katie Holmgren and her co-workers spent countless hours to ensure the pond hockey tournament would be on Dollar Lake for the 10th year.

“The general feel was everybody was happy we were still able to hold the event last year -- the community, the players, everybody -- but we’re really happy to be back on the lake,” Holmgren said. “That’s where we want to be.”

Ron Spingola from Healthy Scratches couldn’t imagine being anywhere else this year but playing on Dollar Lake.

“I think you get used to the atmosphere out here,” said Spingola, who has played in the tournament eight times. “The derby track was a good save. It was a good save in the fact that they had an ability to do something like that with the rinks. But just being out here, I tell you -- look at the shoreline, my gosh. You’re staring at the great white north up here, and half the years it’s been snowing during a game. That’s childhood on the pond again or the frozen park or whatever it is. It’s fun being out on the lake.”

“It was fun playing on the track, the rinks were smaller and smoother. But it we didn’t watch as many games,” Danna Adair, who plays for Huh?, said. “Here it’s nice because you can just walk and watch and you get to see all of your friends that you’ve made playing eight years of hockey. That’s important, and we missed that a little bit last year.”

This year’s tournament had 24 rinks as opposed to 28 to 30 in past years. Also USA Hockey kept the number of teams to 280, where normally there are 300 to 330, Holmgren said.

“We’re down a little bit, and that has nothing to do with the interest factor,” Holmgren said. “We did it for safety reasons on the lake.”

It’s been a more mild winter in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, so ice conditions were a concern again early in winter. However, a cold spell in January helped Dollar Lake complete its freeze and provide plenty of inches of ice for the competition. In past years, vehicles were allowed on the lake, but USA Hockey wanted the ice vehicle free this year, so the rinks were constructed closer to the shoreline.

The weather for all three days of the tournament was above average for early February in Eagle River. Temperatures got into the low 30s with wind chills dropping into the 20s.

“The weather’s been cold enough to have the pond frozen, but it was nice and sunny (on Friday), picture perfect outside,” Holmgren said. “It’s warmer than it’s been in the past, and we don’t mind because it’s not as bad to be outside watching games.”

USA Hockey is planning to have next year’s tournament back on Dollar Lake. Holmgren would like to have the option of being able to have participants and spectators park on the lake again, but it will depend on if Mother Nature cooperates and the ice is thick enough.

Players can’t wait to get back up to Eagle River next year for another three days of hockey and fun.

“I remember years ago we came in, it was our first year, they’re saying they didn’t know if they should move (the tournament) to a bigger town or something,” Shane said. “But everyone loves it here. This town’s awesome.”

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