Pond Hockey Classic: The way the game is meant to be played
Brutes Magoots players, from left, Billy Spanos of Londonderry, Andrew Larrabee of Windham, Adam Larrabee of Litchfield, Sean Gunas of Goffstown, and Matt Courchesne of Manchester. (DAN SEUFERT/Union Leader Correspondent)
"We got to the semifinals last year; this year, we take it all," said Nate Gagne, who graduated from Manchester's Trinity High School with many of his teammates, all of whom are from southern New Hampshire.
The Magoots were one of 200 teams competing in the fourth annual classic, which draws amateur hockey players from the New England and across the nation to Lake Winnipesaukee.
The teams compete for trophies in the Open Division, the 30-plus Division, the 40-plus Division, the 50-plus Division, the Women's Division, and the Just-for-Fun Under 35 Division and the Just-for-Fun Over 35 Division.
Most of the teams have six to eight players or more. They play simultaneously on 21 rinks that are prepared on the bay each year.
One of the rinks this year was unusable because of the warm weather and rain last week, but the majority of rinks provided thick, smooth ice in Saturday's 20 degree temperatures.
Organizers were pleased that this year's winter is proving to be a traditionally cold season; last year, the games had to be played on smaller Lake Waukewan because of a lack of ice on Meredith Bay.
The tournament, which has an 82-game sister tournament on Lake Champlain each winter, draws men and women who love the game and especially love the purity of playing hockey outdoors, said Scott Crowder, the founder of the tournament and the son of former NHL player Bruce Crowder.
"It's real hockey, the way they used to play it and the way it's still played all around the world - outdoors," Crowder said.
For the Magoots, who play in the Just-For-Fun Under 35 Division, this year's tournament is mainly about winning. The team first organized for last year's games and had a taste of the playoffs. The team, whose name is based on the word "brutal," Gagne said, hopes to compete in the finals today.
But they play in the Just-for-Fun Division for a reason. The players are old friends who enjoy the camaraderie and excitement of playing hockey again.
It's also a healthy escape, said Matthew Courchesne, a Brutes Magoot from Manchester who works by day as a sales manager at PC Connection in Manchester.
"It's a weekend of getting away," he said.