Fond of the pond: Outdoor hockey still going strongOlder generations have fond memories of growing up playing pond hockey. Many things have changed over the years, but playing hockey outdoors is still a popular pastime for kids growing up in the frozen north.
By: Ryan Clark, The Forum
FARGO - Caleb Ericson, an 11-year-old from Moorhead, has memories of scoring 10 goals in a single hockey game.
That’s the beauty of playing outdoors in what is described as pond hockey. Ericson will simply tell you he likes pond hockey because there are no coaches or adults around and it allows him to spend time with his friends.
Ask him about the number of kids missing out on pond hockey and Ericson is pretty straightforward.
“I think that is dumb,” he said while lacing his skates for an outdoor game at South Park in Moorhead. “Pond hockey is the best hockey you can play.”
Saturday marks Hockey Day Minnesota, a day where the state honors its sacred game by featuring two outdoor high school hockey games.
Older generations have memories of outdoor hockey, but can the same be said for today’s generation? Do kids today still play pond hockey?
“Over the last five to 10 years, kids got away from it,” said Justin Kaufenberg, co-commissioner of the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. “We even noticed that the outdoor rinks in our own community were empty.”
Kaufenberg, who grew up in Shakopee, Minn., said hockey eventually turned into a year-round sport, where kids trained in the offseason. He said the constant dedication is potentially what led to the decline of pond hockey.
Being on the ice, he said, is what made some want to get away from the game.
“With all the training they do,” he said. “It does not leave a lot of time and passion to play outside.”
But there are still outdoor rinks.
Melissa Disher, recreation programs supervisor for the City of Moorhead, said the city has 12 outdoor rinks. Eight of those rinks are used for hockey while the rest are used for open skating.
“It looks like a lot of the parks average from 25 to 30 kids per day,” Disher said, citing last season’s figures. “There are some parks that are more popular, but all of the parks are located throughout the neighborhoods.”
Having parks throughout neighborhoods creates an incentive to go play hockey when kids get out of school.
There’s 12-year-old Moorhead resident Jimmy Johnson, who says he plays after school nearly every day. Johnson said he enjoys hockey so much he’s teaching one of his friends how to play the game.
“It is fun when you can get friends together to play a game,” he said. “Pond hockey is a lot of fun.”
Kids like Johnson, Kaufenberg said, is why there has been a pond hockey resurgence over the last five years.
Kaufenberg said when the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships – the largest tournament of its kind in the nation – started in 2006, there were only a handful of pond hockey tournaments.
“Now we have counted them up and there are more than 100 official pond hockey tournaments,” Kaufenberg said. “It is a resurgence and people are getting something about of it. That’s what we are excited to see.”
Kaufenberg said this year’s championships drew participants from 34 states and four different nations.
He said Minnesota has an advantage when it comes to making sure today’s youth continue to play pond hockey. Minnesota kids, he said, grow up in areas where there are a minimum of six rinks depending on the town. Exposure to pond hockey can create memories and sustain the pastime for years to come, he said.
“I was the warming house attendant back home,” he said. “And when my buddies and I would get back from long road trips in high school, we’d go straight to the outdoor rink and play all night long. That was our slice of heaven.”
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