It’s February and it is cold. But at our house, we’re not complaining. Two solid weeks in January when we never got above freezing? No problem! A temperature inversion that turned our skies grey and intensified the cold? Even better. For that was all it took to freeze our ponds deep and solid and usher in the annual pond hockey season.
Not that we’re organized. There is organized pond hockey, but not in our town. Fred Haberman, the founder of the US Pond Hockey Championships (and they are organized to the point that 20,000 people show up for their three days of “pure puck-chasing joy”) has said that pond hockey is “hockey the way nature intended it.” I agree — nature did intend for us to skate outside in subfreezing temperatures, not in a refrigerated building in the middle of the summer. Not that there is anything wrong with year-round hockey, but really, nothing beats skating outside, bumping along over non-Zamboni’ed ice, screaming, yelling, playing every position and finally, losing your puck in the frozen reeds and grass that line the pond. That’s pond hockey.
Hockey, especially youth hockey, gets a bit of a bad rap. We’ve all heard about hockey moms (and dads), about poor sportsmanship on the part of hockey parents (and players), and, of course, the astronomical expenses related to ice time and equipment.
We’ve been lucky. In the four years that our boys have played youth hockey, we have experienced all of the above, but only in very small doses. Nothing too dramatic and nothing too obnoxious. Yes, it costs more to field a hockey team than a soccer team. But as for uber-competitive parents and kids, well you can find them in any sport. Competition can engender intensity and intensity can equal craziness — in a bad way. And that is why pond hockey is so cool. It is competitive, intense and crazy, but all in a good way. Here’s why:
Pond hockey takes you outside. When it is super-cold and grey, who wants to be outside? We end up going from house, to garage, to car, to school, to gym, and home. Unless you’re a skier, or a die-hard runner, you’re not getting much fresh air. So when you take to the ice, no matter how cold it is outside, your lungs and your brain are happy.
Pond hockey is disorganized. No set positions, no line changes, no stars and no benchwarmers. Just the perfect pleasure of skating and passing the puck. Teams fluctuate in size, depending on who arrives and who has to go home. Parents play with kids and dogs sometimes get in on the act, too. Shoes demarcate the goals, there are no lines or benches, and as for coaches or referrees, forget about it.
So, grab some skates. Or, if you don’t have skates, wear your tennis shoes or snow boots. Pick up a stick and a puck and take your snow shovel. Find some ice. Get outside. Breathe deeply, pass that puck and skate as fast as you can. Not only will you get warm — really warm — but soon, you’ll be singing the praises of pond hockey, too. I know you will.
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