Braving the elements for the 7th Pabst Colorado Pond Hockey Tournament Feb. 12-14
PBR Colorado Pond Hockey Tournament
What: The seventh running of a mid-winter pond hockey tournament, drawing more than 150 teams and 900 players from across the U.S. for a round-robin tourney and prizes like “best hockey hair”
When: Feb. 12-14
Where: North Pond Park, Hamilton Road and Highway 9 in north Silverthorne
Cost: Free for spectators
Spectator viewing for all games is free and open to the public. The Saturday night concert with Sublime tribute 40oz to Freedom is also free and begins at 9 p.m. For more info on the tournament, see www.coloradopondhockey.com.
7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. — Round-robin play
Noon — Break, beer garden opens for on-ice activities
6 p.m. to 9 p.m. — Round-robin play
8:30 p.m. — Après Ice Party doors open
9 p.m. to midnight — 40oz to Freedom
7 a.m. to 10 a.m. — Round-robin play
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Playoff games
Take it from a Canadian: there’s no hockey like pond hockey.
“That’s where you learn to fall in love with the game,” said Aaron Mackenzie, an Ontario native and former Colorado Avalanche defenseman. “We were outside every day, playing on the lakes, on the rivers, making your own rules. You just figure it out yourself.”
For the past two years, the 31-year-old Mackenzie has joined up with a crew of skaters from across the nation for three days of round-robin play at the Pabst Blue Ribbon Colorado Pond Hockey Tournament. It’s the largest tourney of its kind this side of the Mississippi River, drawing 150 teams and roughly 900 players from 45 states, plus a few international additions like Mackenzie. He can’t make it to the tournament this year, but he’ll be on the pond in spirit.
“There’s a certain feel to pond hockey,” Mackenzie said. “It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve ever played outside or grew up playing outside, it just puts a smile on your face. It doesn’t even matter if you win or lose.”
That’s the name of the game this weekend, as the tournament returns to North Pond Park in Silverthorne for round-robin play yesterday and today before the finals on Sunday. Games are held from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. under the sun and portable lights. With divisions for men and women, the event draws a collection of just about anyone who’s ever set skate to ice: former pros and college players, stay-at-home moms, work buddies, even Texas natives who never get the chance to play on ponds in their backyard.
“We’re terrible hockey players, but we win the shenanigans off the ice,” said Ryan Lindsey, an Austin native who picked up hockey about a decade ago and has been hooked ever since. “We come with costumes and giant foam cowboy hats, wearing pearl-snap shirts and dusters and chaps. This is all just for fun.”
Bonfires and PBR
The first game of the tournament ended in a loss for Lindsey and his team, dubbed the Englewood Jacks. But he and his fellow Austinites didn’t mind. When they left the ice after a 7:30 a.m. game, the sun was just beginning to warm the air and the Englewood Jacks were ready to enjoy the day. Last year, in their second season at the tourney, the team came away with two wins: one for best team spirit and one for best hockey hair.
“This tournament has been my first time playing any type of pond hockey and it’s really just a party,” Lindsey said. “No one tries too hard out there. Back at home you’re playing the same guys over and over. It can get a little serious and competitive, but here it’s just a party. It’s so laid-back.”
The Englewood Jacks play in the Pabst division — “Not the bottom and not the top,” Lindsey said — and face a slew of new teams, all guys they’ve never played against, on ice they only touch once a season. The Pabst division is one of five, including a women’s field, a 45-plus field and the open division, where former pros like Mackenzie put on a show while getting back to their pond days.
“It’s still not super competitive out here,” Mackenzie said of the open division. “It’s more about getting the guys together, bringing it back to that childhood experience. You’re having fun, hanging with friends, playing outside in a beautiful setting. You can’t ask for a better place to play pond hockey.”
The tourney is sponsored by PBR, and so of course it’s an equal mix of action on the ice and off. Tonight at 8 p.m. is the free Après Ice Party, with a performance by Sublime cover band 40oz to Freedom. The party opens to the public at 8:30 p.m. with music beginning at 9 p.m.
“This tournament is a highlight of the year for me and my buddies,” said Ari Sachter-Smith, another Pabst division player who’s playing on a Chinese New Year-themed team this weekend. “It’s just a blast. You run into lots of guys who you just don’t see during the year, like my buddy from Steamboat and another buddy who moved to Guam. He’s come back every year to play with us.”
Like Lindsey, Sachter-Smith and his team stay together in a large rented home for the entire weekend. It’s a combination hockey tournament and friend reunion, hopefully with a few turns on the ski hill between games. The weather has been warm and the ice has been sloppy, but conditions are a footnote to beers and skiing and hockey. Just about every player is simply content to spend a weekend on the pond.
“Hockey is just chaos in general,” Sachter-Smith said. “Hopefully the ice will be nice, but in the end it really doesn’t matter.”
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