Hockey

World's biggest pond hockey tourney starts Friday

Over the next two weekends, nearly 2,000 players will participate in six different divisions in the fourth annual Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships, which earned the "world's biggest" title after just three years of play.

Former NHLers Vincent Damphousse, Scott Thornton among nearly 2,000 participants

More than 150 teams will hit the ice in Huntsville, Ont., this weekend to kick off the biggest pond hockey event in the world.

Over the course of the next two weekends, nearly 2,000 players will participate in six different divisions in the fourth annual Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships, which earned the "world's biggest" title after just three years of play.

"It's the appeal of the pond, and it's taking the game back to the way it should be," says the tournament's executive director, Neil Lumsden. "Every year you hear the same thing from players: 'This is unbelievable that we can get outside and play.' It's about having fun, and there's energy and excitement attached to every game."

Glen Cameron and his Ontario-based Grumpy Boys team, who hail from Burlington, Waterloo, Kingston and Peterborough, are among many teams that keep coming back year after year.

On Friday, the six guys, ages 40-49, will pile into a couple of cars and make the drive to Huntsville, where they'll spend the weekend playing hockey in temperatures expected to drop as low as –28 C.

"We'll be wearing plaid, Thinsulate, ugly clothing, and lots of toques," said Cameron. "Sometimes, I wonder, 'Why would anyone do this?' I mean, really, you go up there, and you freeze. But it's a great time, and there's a reason we keep coming back. It's the combination of outdoor hockey, friendship, fun and competition."

Although if you ask him, the Grumpy Boys aren't exactly contenders for the championship cup.

"No chance of that whatsoever," Cameron says. "It's an opportunity for us to, you know, freeze our fingers, to reminisce of childhood memories, all those things. It's that Canadian passion of playing Canadian pond hockey, and all of us grew up playing outdoors. It allows us all to be kids again."

Rink-side beer tent part of attraction

For the Grumpy Boys, and for many other teams, the hockey is just one of the attractions. There's a reason for the rink-side beer tent.

"No doubt, there's 'brown pops' involved, for sure," says Cameron.

"That's guaranteed. That's a Canadian tradition. We frequent the beer gardens, and we go as far as putting in a request to play as close as possible to the beer," he added, laughing.

The Grumpy Boys are among 40 teams competing in the masters division. Also taking the ice this weekend are 96 competitive men's and 20 competitive women's teams. Proceeds of the Source for Sports-sponsored event go to Shoot For a Cure.

Next weekend will see another 140 teams hit the ice – 70 masters, 30 women's rec and 40 masters rec teams – with proceeds going to the NHL Alumni Hockey's Greatest Family Fund.

Among the competitors at the Jan. 30-Feb.1 weekend are retired NHLers Vincent Damphousse and Scott Thornton, who will play on the Scandinave Crew in the masters division.

"I haven't had a chance to play with my buddies and brothers for a long time, so this was an opportunity to get out and skate with them on an outdoor rink where it all started," Thornton said in a press release.

They're not the first NHLers to play in the pond tourney, either. Denis Potvin and Steve Larmer are among others who have battled in Huntsville in previous years.

"It's everyone's game, and this is a tournament that has a spot for everybody, from the guys who just shoot the puck around to guys in organized leagues, former Junior A and university players, and even the odd NHLer," says tournament public relations director Gary Holloway. "They all want to be a part of it. It's classic, Canadian hockey."

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