MARQUETTE — The heat of their enthusiasm is enough to melt the ice they skate on. It’s palpable, and contagious. Two Marquette men are on a fervent mission to start a local pond hockey league. An ingenious idea, it seems like a long over-due addition to our recreational sports repertoire.
Still in its infancy, the organization’s launch reads like any great story – humble beginnings, just for fun, with limitless potential. “We want to be realistic about our goals,” said the group’s co-founder Bradley Brownell. “Right now, we’re getting the word out. We’re a group of hockey enthusiasts looking to spark interest and get feedback from the hockey community.”
Two weeks ago, Bradley Brownell and Ryan Campbell, along with a dozen or so local players, attended the 3rd annual Midwest Freeze Leinenkugel’s Classic Hockey tournament in Wasaua, WI. Their team, endearingly called “The Ice Holes” returned to Marquette emboldened to encourage others to ditch the ‘Big Rink’ and hit the pond.
The U.P. has its fair share of amateur hockey leagues, adult leagues, pick up gamers, and various levels of junior hockey “House” programs. This is different. Pond Hockey is commonly associated with an after school, back yard pick up between neighborhood children. Not anymore. Brownell and Campbell’s Marquette Pond Hockey is just for adults, 21 years old and up. Other than that, the group is inviting players across all skill levels. The only requirement is a love-of-the-game. It’s relatively informal, open to the community, and celebrates hockey in its most authentic, original form… outdoors.
Joining Marquette Pond Hockey is easy… show up. There are no fees, no forms, and no memberships. Don’t let their breezy welcoming fool you, the group takes their fun seriously. For two timed 15 minutes halves, teams match up 4-on-4, and adhere to a few rules.
- No hitting
- No raising the puck off the ice
- No slap shots
- No goals from outside mid-ice mark
- No goalies
- No nets
No nets? That’s right. No nets. This is a Pond Hockey regulation goal:
Meticulously built to spec, these homemade heavy duty wooden contraptions add another unique element to the game. Normally during outdoor pick-up games, when a group fails to manipulate someone’s little brother into playing goalie, they play “Pipes”. Pipes tallies a point anytime a shot successfully connects to a vacant net’s bordering metal pipes. In contrast, the pond hockey version is something players quickly adapt to, and begin to appreciate. It keeps the puck on the ice. There’s no trekking in snow-banks searching for lost pucks that flew out of bounds.
Because of its differences, Pond Hockey is a faster, more free-flowing game. There are few whistles, and only occasional stops of play. The nature of it appeals to a more finesse player – no “Goons” allowed. More space, and less bodies encourage puck movement, stick handling skills and quick passing. Final scores average higher than Big Rink play, but scoring isn’t easy.
Brownell laughingly admits his game stats over three years participating in the Wasaua, WI tournament are 0 and 14 with 0 points. He’s not starting the league because of his hockey accomplishments, and he doesn’t pretend to be a guru of the game. “This is my outlet for energy. It’s a way to experience the elements. It’s competitive and exciting, but it’s all for fun,” said Brownell.
Picture it. If you’re familiar with Disney’s Mighty Ducks trilogy, recall the scene where Gordon Bombay laces up his Bauer skates, and swiftly glides across a snow banked bordered rink. The twilight of dusk in the background, Gordy is alone with his thoughts, and silence. Snow sprays with each digging stop, he carves new sleek blade patterns through an unblemished ice sheet. Fresh ice-crystals reflect in the setting sunlight. The deep crackle of ice under pressure reverberates across the empty park. His introspection visible with every exhale, fogging and fading in the brisk winter air. Bombay absorbing the peaceful solitude of the night, nostalgically reflecting upon his junior hockey memories.
It’s a similar scene that Brownell recalls when reflecting upon what motivates him to play. An experience he knows others can appreciate, and an appreciation many carry from their childhood, before they hung up their skates.
Pond Hockey Marquette wants to motivate former players to fall back in love with the game, players of all hockey backgrounds. Campbell played no organized hockey, Brownell, a couple years barely a Pee Wee. Others have played competitively into their teens and beyond. Talent on the Big Rink doesn’t necessarily reflect on the pond. It requires a unique skillset. The atmosphere of Pond Hockey celebrates a backyard playground approach to the game – fun to be had by all.
It’s homegrown, and homemade – from the wooden goalies to the homemade screen printed jerseys. Brownell’s Ice Holes sport a logo he designed himself and pressed on a fabric screen press in his kitchen.
All of it motivated by jealousy watching his son’s introduction into junior hockey. His interest in the sport was reignited three years ago when he began coaching as an instructor for the skills and development program by Marquette Junior Hockey. The father/son hockey duo can now share the joys of the game, and all-the-while Dad can share a beer with his drinking buddies and experience the sport under lights on evenings and weekends.
Are your hockey pants a little too snug for comfort? Not sure where that left elbow pad disappeared to? Does your gut stretch out the last piece of Velcro in your jock strap? No worries. Unlike Big Rink pick-up play, all you really need is knee-down protection. Helmets are always recommended for on ice play, but your only risk of getting your teeth knocked out is on the car ride to the game. No high sticks, and any purposeful air lifts of the puck automatically forfeit possession to the other team.
Competitive, organized hockey has never been more fun. It’s never been so easy to gear up for, and convenient evening scheduled scrimmages make it perfect for 9-5ers. Official puck drop is well after dinner time. The rink is lit and maintained by the city of Marquette. Games last a half hour.
The Ice Holes team is only assembled for tournaments. Last week, Norway MI held an event and next week Escanaba hosts the Mites to Men tournament. Purely MQT Pond Hockey says to join their weekly scrimmages, organizing a team isn’t necessary. Players are encouraged to BYOB – bring your own buddies and/or beer. Come one, come all. Depending on turnout, teams are split by piling sticks at center ice, anonymously tossed one by one to opposite ends, and fetched by their respective owners. Wahla, teammates!
Most hockey seasons are approaching the midway marking, and officially launching the endeavor comes a bit late comparatively. In this Northern climate, Purely Pond MQT Hockey’s first season will last as long as the ice is hard, which could be another 12 weeks. A few games a week, it’s potentially 30 – 40 games to get the group going.
If enough people express interest, group organizers already have plans to develop a more routine schedule and a way to match up self-organized teams. Right now, they’re just excited about attracting a following. Members of NMU’s hockey team have expressed interest in joining the group and many immediately fall in love with the idea. ABC 10’s Sports director Jerry Taylor and I are sharpening up our skates, eager to start a station-team. We’ll be the first to cover a game on your ABC 10 News Now.
For more information about game assemblies, and connecting to the developing league, join the conversation with Facebook. Find out when and where the next game will be played, and simply show up. Here’s the link. Like it, love it, share it with a hockey loving friend.
See ya on the pond!