The 'Classic' History
It could be said that the Wisconsin Pond Hockey Classic got its start in 1967, when my Dad and my uncle John got me started in hockey. They were on the original board of directors for what is now known as Marathon County Youth Hockey Association. We played on the outdoor rinks around Wausau, my first team was the Thom Field Black Hawks. I remember coming to the rink to find my Uncle John firing up the warming house coal stove. Back then we didn’t have the helicopter parents of today, all the kids got dropped off at the road and came in to the warming house alone or with their brothers. The warming house was dimly lit and smelled of a coal fire. Our team was all chattering with the excitement of getting to the rink for a skate under the lights. After my Uncle John finished tightening the last pair of skates we headed out to the rink for practice. Once on the rink we were in our own little world as the lights shown down on the rink everything beyond was black. We were on the ice playing the game we loved just having fun as it began to snow. Practice was put on hold half way through to shovel the snow so the puck could move better. When practice was over we couldn’t wait to head to the warming house to get in and warm up. Since we didn’t have the fancy protective gloves they have today, we had leather choppers with wool liners; we would take the liners out and put them on the stove to dry out. The smell of singing wool on the coal burner was a smell to let us know they were done. After my Uncle helped all of the younger kids out of their skates, and they were picked up by their parents, it was time to flood the rink. He would go out and hook up the hose to the hydrant and flood the rink. My Uncle John was the coach, equipment, facilities, and rink manager. When we played the afternoon games on a sunny winter day nothing else mattered but working as a team and having fun. Between periods we would have hot apple cider to warm us up. Those days of playing on the outdoor rinks really made me fall in love with game of hockey in its purest form. From my Dad and my Uncle John I not only learned the game of hockey, and the love of the game, I learned to share it with others. My Uncle passed away the summer of 2010, before the first pond hockey tournament but I thought of him often that weekend out on the lake as my team was the Hawks and I wore my Chicago Blackhawks jersey. In the evening when we got the hoses out and flooded the rinks, I could see my Uncle John flooding once again.
The opportunity to host a pond hockey tournament became a possibility when the Wausau 525 snowmobile race decided to build their own track and not use Sunnyvale Lake for the race. The foundation of the tournament began when I was at a meeting for the Badger State Games and talking to Dick Barrett, of the Wausau Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Sports Authority, and he asked me about the option of bringing the adult hockey to Wausau, I told him we should start an adult pond hockey tournament. Dick said that Ken Kreuger, from the Park’s Department had laid out a plan for Sunnyvale Lake a couple of years prior. Ken was also at this meeting and the three of us started to formulate a plan to get a tournament organized for the upcoming year. We had an organizational meeting within the month and agreed it could be done. With the support of the community, the Park’s Department, and area businesses we were off and running.
We needed a major sponsor to back us and most adult pond hockey tournaments have a beer sponsor so I wanted to get Leinenkugel’s as they are from the state and their marketing is aimed at being in the outdoors, “Join Us Out Here”. I told Dick what I wanted to do and he set up a meeting with Kim Fisher from Central Beer Distributors and I laid out what the plan was and she was excited to get on board. They provided the beer and all members of the winning teams got a Leinenkugel’s hockey jersey.
The first year we marketed it to hockey people throughout the state but we got a late start and many people wanted to get in but couldn’t get a team together due to the short notice. We had only 1 team registered as of December 1, 2011. We ended up with 14 teams and 3 divisions for our first year. The number worked out fine as we got to figure out some things and were able to pull off a very successful tournament and everyone involved had a great time. I also had my DAD make the Custom Wooden Skate trophies that were a big hit. With our tent on the beach, to protect the skates and to keep the tent a bit warmer, we had the entire tent carpeted, which turned out great! The gas heaters and carpeted floors were a lot nicer than the old warming house we had as kids.
Going into our second year we had experience and time on our side. We had the date set for the next year before the tournament was even over. We made our own website created a Facebook page and posted pictures and results of the first tournament to start getting the word out earlier. With a successful tournament completed and people talking about it we had 6 teams already registered in August. The second year is going to be so much bigger and even more fun than the first. We have even added a team party for Saturday night and booked a band to play from 6-10PM. With all of the proceeds going to benefit the local youth hockey it makes all of the time and energy worth that much more. Our goal is to raise money so more kids can afford to try the sport as I did as a kid when the costs were so much less than they are now.