Updated: Feb 24, 2022
Upper Peninsula, Michigan Pond Hockey. A much-needed return of a favorite event!
Typical Pond Hockey Necessities (media by JC)
Since 2007, St. Ignace, Michigan, has hosted a pond hockey tournament on Moran Bay. For those unfamiliar, St. Ignace is the first city you encounter as you cross over the Mackinac Bridge (pictured below) into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You are in “Yooper” territory now.
The first year they held this tournament, they had close to 24 teams compete in the three-day event. This year, they expect close to 200 teams over the mid-February weekend. Hockey players from all over the world come to Michigan looking to experience this outdoor event. To say there is a bit of excitement in the air would be an understatement as last year was the first canceling of the event in its 15-year history. Even this event couldn’t thwart the effects of the pandemic, and they have had previous “close calls.”
Before the pandemic, the most significant obstacle to the event was the lack of ice which can bring any pond hockey tournament to a crashing halt. If not for the banding together of the local businesses a few years ago, St. Ignace would have had to cancel a prior tournament. They were able to shut down the city water and redirect it to flood a local parking lot in time for it to freeze. The tournament was then moved from Moran Bay to the inland parking lot. It was quite a marvel to see them pull off the tournament without a hitch.
Typical wooden goal (media by JC)
A few other close calls involved moving the tournament from Moran Bay to the nearest local lake (Chain Lake). Though not convenient, it did offer a change of pace to playing directly on the Straits of Mackinac. A few years ago, there was the other extreme that involved sub-zero temperatures. Nothing punctuates a good pond hockey event played in a blizzard. More than a few players voluntarily forfeited the games rather than subjecting themselves to life-endangering low temperatures.
The St. Ignace event has run very smoothly for the better part of these 15 years. Games are played four against four with no goalies. The rinks are roughly 75 by 150 feet, with nearly thirty prepared before game time. Each team is responsible for clearing their ice before the start. The clearing involves shovels and shaving the ice and snow buildup from the game prior.
The competition level is pretty high during the game, but expect to see the opposing team back at the bar. If you were bitter rivals on the ice, you will become drinking buddies later that night. Creative hockey team names are prevalent the entire weekend. You can expect to run into the Bad Beaches, The Weekend Parolees, The Pelvic Thrust, and the list goes on. These were some of the most family-friendly.
Pond Hockey Morning Skate (media by JC)
You are guaranteed at least three games played on Friday and Saturday. Expect to play for the championship on Sunday if you have the better record. Most teams have played their final hockey Saturday afternoon, and the competition turns to beer drinking that night. In either case, they welcome taking part in the tournament, and there is always next year!