Mountain Pulse: Cool as ice in the Vail Valley
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Hockey in its purest Vail Valley form isn’t played inside a cozy ice arena. There are no club level seats or overgrown mascots.
Nope, the best way to experience the game is on a frozen pond where parents are the biggest fans and the drink of choice is hot chocolate.
That’s exactly what makes the Rocky Mountain Pond Hockey Championships special. Trying to revive the old-school feeling of playing outside, the pond hockey championships offers kids and kids at heart the chance to lace up their skates.
“It brings you back to the roots of the game,” said Sam Adams, who has played in the event the last three years. “We all grew up playing outside. As a kid, I remember running around to all the ponds and lakes to see where the best ice was.”
Normally, Avon is turned into a hockey-lover’s paradise for two weekends each year. Youth players swarmed Nottingham Lake on Jan. 17-18 to experience hockey like never before. Unfortunately, warm weather forced the cancellation of the adult weekend last Saturday and Sunday.
Still, Mother Nature did little to dampen the kids’ good time. That’s because they played hockey with no coaches and no pressure. If that wasn’t enough, everything was free, all the way down to the hot dogs.
“The motivation for myself and (Co-director) Pat Hern was to be inclusive,” said Andy Clark, Co-director of the event. “Any player, regardless of ability, was invited. We made sure every kid that wanted to play could by charging nothing.”
Keeping it old school
Organizers try to keep the pond hockey championships as authentic as possible. The rinks and goals are specially crafted.
At any time during competition, there may be as many as seven games going on at once. The rink’s area is about two-thirds the size of a normal ice rink (200-by-85-feet). There are no goalies to maneuver the puck around, instead players much score through small openings in a wooden goal.
When it all comes together, it’s a truly unique atmosphere, almost like sandlot baseball.
“The neat thing about watching this is, this is kind of an indication of what hockey can be,” Clark said. “It was amazing how many kids were out there smiling, laughing and playing hard.”
Only in its third year, the event is already wildly popular. For both weekends, the pond hockey championships reached its maximum of 28 teams. Even though the adult teams went home without hitting the ice, the event is sure to be packed again next year.
The pond hockey championships is all for fun, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some serious talent on the ice in Avon. Former Detroit Red Wings come in to lend a charitable hand for the event. First, they play a game against the Vail Mountaineers alumni. The rest of the weekend they spend doing whatever needs to get done to make the pond hockey championships a success.
“For 17 years, they’ve come 1,500 miles,” Clark said. “That says a lot about them. Yes, it’s a ski opportunity, but they spend so much time with us, it’s not about skiing. They are so vested in our community.”
Lucky teams even wind up with one of the former NHL players on their side. The Red Wings alums are drafted onto different teams before play begins.
Like most of the athletes at the pond hockey championships, the Red Wings just can’t wait to get on the ice again.
“The appeal to literally every player, is the fraternity of hockey players is huge,” Clark said. “Every one that has ever laced up a pair of skates and played hockey is part of a family here.”
Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.