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Back to hockey’s roots in Avon

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
Rocky Mountain Pond Hockey Championship
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NOTTINGHAM LAKE, AVON, COLORADO ” Come winter, lakes transform from a moving body of water full of life to a stagnant mass of ice and snow.

But there is one good way to brush off the mounds of snow and bring the body of water out of hibernation a little early.

The Rocky Mountain Pond Hockey Championships, back for its second year, promises to inject some life onto Avon’s Nottingham Lake this weekend.



More than 20 teams will take to the old-fashioned ice starting Saturday morning, playing with old-fashioned rules.

“There’s something pure about going out there ” you can be creative and have fun,” said Brian Ripley, who will be playing on a team with his childhood friends from Colorado Springs.



Unlike a normal game of hockey, the pond version is a lot more minimalist ” there are four players a side, no goalies, no offsides, no icing and no referees.

“It’s a friendly game. I don’t think anyone called penalties last year,” said local resident Tim Dundon, who won the inaugural tournament with his childhood friends from Buffalo, N.Y.

Pat Hirn and Andy Clark, of the Vail Eagle Hockey Association, decided to bring the tournament to the Vail Valley during a time when the sport was making a revival across the United States.



“We’ve got to give a lot of credit to Andy Clark ” he received a call two years ago from a buddy in Minnesota who said, ‘You won’t believe what I’m doing ” I’m playing pond hockey, and there are 500 teams here,” Hirn said.

Last year, 16 teams enjoyed a chilly weekend on Nottingham Lake. Hirn said the response to the tournament was overwhelmingly positive, which in part fueled its return this year. But even before they left the ice, Hirn and Clark had plans to expand the format.

“Sunday afternoon, we were saying, ‘Gosh this is fun,’ as I was trying to get my two sons off and Andy was trying to get his off. We said we have to do this for the kids,” Hirn said.

While a kids tournament was set for last weekend, the weather wasn’t too cooperative ” variable temperatures starting in November and heavy snowfall in late December and early January made for uneven ice thickness. Then, one of the snowcats from the town of Avon fell into the lake.

“The town was seriously bummed out about it,” Hirn said. “They really were working hard and wanted it to happen.”

“Our No. 1 priority is to keep roads clear. Being down equipment and with so much snow, that combination hampered our ability to get ice in shape for two weeks in a row,” said Danita Chiricillo, the special events coordinator for the town of Avon. “But colder temperatures have really helped get that ice ready for this weekend.”

Initially, Hirn projected that four rinks would be available for this weekend, but the town worked hard to make room for another rink, which will make for some smoother skating.

“It’s wonderful ” we have all the games allocated to four rinks, and we can have a rink get Zambonied, so one has fresh ice,” Hirn said.

Like any pond, the ice isn’t always a perfect piste and has some cracks, but “it’s part of the game,” Dundon said.

For Irv Hoch, who grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and is coming in town from Seattle to play, the pond game was the only game he knew as a kid.

“There was no option,” Hoch said. “Even when you played in youth leagues, you played outdoors.”

Even with a few adult touches, like a tent with beverages and manual-flip scoreboards, the tournament still has the flavor of childhood.

“Having the goal as a wooden plank and sliding the puck into it ” it’s like when we used to play on roads growing up, with boots or shoes as goals,” Dundon said.

One alluring thing about the tournament is that it brings some friends together.

“It was a great mix for me ” guys I played with in early stages of my life and current stages, and it’s a great mix of people, too. There were some women who played last year,” said Dundon, who will play with one of his childhood friends who lives in Denver this year.

Ripley, who lives north of McCoy, found the Rocky Mountain Pond Hockey Tournament to be a lot more convenient than the one in Minnesota.

“I’d heard of one in Minnesota and kind of a big national one, and I grew up my whole life playing,” he said. “I thought it’d be fun to get a team together and do that. When I heard about one in Colorado, I figured I’d have an easier time getting a group of guys together. A handful are coming up from Colorado Springs and Woodland Park. It’s bringing us together.”

Hock often visits the Vail Valley on business but had no idea about the tournament and is coming to play solo as a free agent.

“I met a guy at (Charles Schultz’s) Snoopy’s (Senior World Hockey) Tournament (in California) who told me about it,” he said. “I looked it up and phoned Andy.”

The organizers hope word continues to spread and plan on expanding the tournament next year to include several ice surfaces.

“I would like to fund buying four liners … to put rinks on soccer field in Edwards or between the (Avon) Recreation Center and Nottingham Lake,” Hirn said.

Tonight at Vail’s Dobson Arena, the tournament hosts an exhibition game between the Detroit Red Wings Alumni and Vail Mountaineer Alumni at 7 p.m.

“They’ve been out here for 17 years and play games raising money for our youth programs ” they’ve raised over $100,000,” Hirn said of the Red Wings Alumni. “What we are trying to do is get this tournament to be a strong fundraiser for our youth hockey programs ” we don’t make a dime on this.”

Before the game, Mini-Mite hockey players will scrimmage the Red Wings, and during intermission of the two-period game, Mites will get to scrimmage the Red Wings.

Then, Saturday morning at 9 a.m., players will put on a few extra layers and hit the ice. Games run throughout the day, and there were be several night games from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. that will use glow-in-the-dark pucks. Sunday, teams will play a single-elimination playoff to determine winners of the four divisions.

Team can still register through tonight. For more information, see http://www.rockymtnpondhockey.com.

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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