DISCLAIMER: Please use this guide to determine if ice is suitable enough to be used.
There is nothing like playing a game of pond hockey on a snowy day in North America.
Of the “Big 4” sports in North America, hockey is definitely the most expensive. Football and baseball just need a natural growing field that needs to be cut every now and then, a few pieces of equipment covering certain areas of the body, and a ball you are a good to go. Basketball just needs a net, ball, and pavement to get a game started. Hockey on the other hand, needs players to be covered in equipment from head to toe, a temperature controlled arena, and an expensive Zamboni using up to 380 litres of water after each game that is played.
Due to these reasons, league fees can be very high and deterring to many families. It’s tough topic to talk about because hockey is such a fun sport that I have fallen absolutely in love with, and I would love everyone to get a chance to play it, but it is just so expensive to get started that it’s hard to see it being a game for a people outside of 1st world countries like soccer. Even still, many families in these 1st world countries still have a hard time getting their kids into the sport because of the price wall associated with it.
Enter pond hockey. What is pond hockey? Well it’s hockey on a frozen pond of course! Where can you find these frozen ponds? Well first, there is the requirement that you have to live in an area that is cold enough for it. DISCLAIMER: Please use this guide to determine if ice is suitable enough to be used. Usually -5° Celsius for a few days creates suitable ice conditions, but anything above that for any amount of time I would use caution. Most of the time, I use ponds within parks to be on the safe side, since most of them are only a foot deep (I think this is only a practice in parks in Canada though, dang Canadians and their National obsession with hockey), and that they are usually maintained by the town for safety reasons.
Now to get started playing, all you need is the basics. Instead of paying several hundred dollars for equipment, even for a young child, the hockey enthusiast can get started playing hockey on the pond with skates, stick, and a puck. For an adult, this could run up to $50 for the cheapest pair of skates, the cheapest wooden stick for $15, a puck for $2, and using any naturally forming ice you can find for the low price of free. Before tax, it comes to $65. So for the price of a brand new video game, you get to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and one of the best ways to enjoy hockey. Obviously there a few more things that I would recommend like a jock/jill and a helmet especially (DISCLAIMER: a helmet is a necessity for children and beginners).
I played organized hockey my whole life and I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. However, I had an eye opening experience when I played pond hockey for the first time when I was 12 years old. It was a cold day in Bancroft, Ontario and the lake that my grandparent’s cottage was on was frozen solid with a foot of snow on top of it. My cousins and I set out to start clearing the snow early in the morning to find a fresh sheet of ice underneath. We cleared enough snow for a 25 foot by 25 foot square of ice, put two pylons up at each end to act as nets, and started to play. I wasn’t sure how fun playing hockey on a pond was going to be; we didn’t have a goalie, we couldn’t play as fast, and we couldn’t take shots. Also it gets bitter cold on an open lake in Northern Ontario, so I don’t know how long we’d last out there. To my pleasant surprise, we played all day that day, then the next day we played all day, and this repeated until we inevitably had to go home. It sucked to leave, but one thing was for sure, I found a new love in pond hockey.
The reason I liked it so much is because it was a much more enjoyable form of hockey. In organized hockey your parents, coaches, and friends are all pushing you to work your hardest and do a good job. They tell you to have fun, and you do have fun, just it can feel like work sometimes. Pond hockey though, you can get a few friends together, be outside in the crisp cold air with a beautiful backdrop, and enjoy a few beers (with the added bonus of the weather acting as a refrigerator). When you play, you can be competitive with your buddies, but if you get scored on you just shrug it off and it doesn’t really bother you because there is no big board with big numbers telling you about your failure.
Pond hockey also has its uses for improving your skills as well when you go to play competitively. I was always a very positional player, using checks and position to generate plays (AKA I have awful hands and score for crap), but ever since I started playing pond hockey my hands have improved since I obviously can’t do an open ice body check against someone who isn’t wearing any equipment. I did this once against BLB author Jason Harding by accident and ended up giving us both concussions.
To succeed in pond hockey, there is two skills you need to perfect: passing, and using your teammates. Lots of times I will go out to a pond at a park and I will have younger and faster high school kids playing against a few of my friends, and we will just use passing to get around these guys trying to make a solo effort to score. I’m guilty of it, I was always one of the faster kids on the ice so I would choose to blow past the defense rather than using my teammate that’s perfectly open. Now though, I get much more success and satisfaction when I execute a perfect pass to my teammate. Another useful advanced skill you learn is the saucer pass, which becomes a necessity when the snow starts piling up on the ice and a regular pass just won’t do it.
Pond hockey is a great way to enjoy hockey. Sure, hockey started out on these naturally forming ponds, but there is so much more to it than a simple cliché. It’s a great way to get started with the sport, it’s very affordable, and it’s a great way to improve your hockey skills. Besides those points, there is also the bonus of being outdoors among friends having a good time enjoying the best sport on the planet. With Family Day/Presidents Day tomorrow, get your family together and shovel that snow off your local pond, I promise it will be worth it.
Cover Photo by: Spencer Cook – Beer League Blog