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PJ Hunt, left, from Franklin, Mass., battles with Derek Becker, with Stonedam Islanders, a UNH Alumni team from Meredith, during the annual New England Pond Hockey Classic on Saturday, held at Meredith Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Former UNH and NHL star praises pond hockey tournament


MEREDITH - Bruce Crowder has a thing about playing pond hockey.

Granite Staters may remember him as a star at the University of New Hampshire, where as a senior he scored 22 goals and had 30 assists in the 1978-79 season. He is also remembered as a Boston Bruin - particularly for his 21 goals and 18 assists as a forward in 1982-83 - or for his time as a Pittsburgh Penguin.

Some remember his higher-scoring brother, Keith Crowder, who played with the Bruins from 1980-89.

But on Saturday, Bruce Crowder was among more than 1,400 amateur hockey players taking part in the fifth annual New England Pond Hockey Classic on Meredith Bay. There, 225 teams met on 22 rinks to play the game, as he put it, "like it's supposed to be played."

Pond (or in this case, Lake Winnipesaukee) hockey is the best brand of the sport, he said.

"Just look around out here today. All you see are friends, families, people hugging," said Crowder, whose son Scott founded the tournament. "This is the best way to play the game. Everybody has a blast. It's just fun."

Is it the same kind of hockey he played growing up in Essex, Ontario, Canada, with his brother?

"No, not at all. When we grew up, there was no Nintendo or nothing. We had two channels on the TV ... that was mom just kicking us out of the house (to play), and we all wanted to be pros," he said.

Surely it's the kind of hockey the NHL is promoting with its outdoor games, right?. A night game between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils last week in Yankee Stadium drew more than 50,000 people.

"Not really like that, no," he said. "That's the NHL trying to capitalize on something that's popular now. It's a money-maker, but those guys are still pros."

Crowder said the joy of playing in the Pond Hockey Classic is that, in conventional hockey terms, "you're not shooting for the upper corner (of the net), and there's no (goalie's) water bottle up there."

"This is a much different, much more enjoyable way to play," he said. "Speed is not an issue here on these small rinks. There are no nets, so if you have a slap shot, you can't really use it.

"Really," Crowder said, "this is a novelty."

Crowder, 54, now lives in Nashua, where he sells medical devices. His brother Keith, now 55, is back in Essex, where he runs a restaurant.

Crowder's proud of his son's achievement in organizing and running the tournament. But mostly, "I just love coming here to play with these people," he said.

dseufert@newstote.com


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