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Dreaming of the Ice…at the Pond Hockey Classic

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - January 31, 2011





No matter what age you are, there is a good chance you played ice hockey on a local pond. Kids from neighborhoods all over the country at one time or another laced up their ice skates, grabbed a hockey puck (or for lack of any other gear, used a broom) and joined friends on a local pond to play impromptu games of ice hockey, commonly called pond hockey. If you enjoyed that sport as a child or teen, you will be happy to know pond hockey is back in a big way.

When the 2nd Annual New England Pond Hockey Classic competitors take to the ice in Meredith Bay from February 4-6, they will bring with them lots of excitement. It comes at just the right time to enliven the cabin-fevered people of the Lakes Region who are itching for something fun and unique to brighten the winter landscape.

Last year, the first Pond Hockey Classic came to the Lakes Region and the event was a big success. Teams came from all over the country to compete and hotels and restaurants were very busy. This year should bring even larger crowds and more teams; indeed, well over 150 teams have signed up and are ready and eager to take to the ice.

Just what is the Pond Hockey Classic and how did it start? The organization is a grass roots sport event management company specializing in organizing and managing pond hockey events throughout the northeastern U.S. The organization provides the hockey community with a competitive, traditional and nostalgic hockey experience. There are three yearly pond hockey events in New England; the Meredith event is in its second year.

Last year’s Lakes Region event saw a local team win the coveted title of Pond Hockey Classic Champions in the 40-plus division. The Bumbles competed over three days last February and won the Lake Winnipehockey’s Cup. The team is expected to return this February to defend their title.

It’s lucky for the Lakes Region and ice hockey fans everywhere that Scott Crowder loves the sport. And it’s lucky that Scott, the founder and organizer of the Pond Hockey Classic, couldn’t see himself tied to a 9-5-desk job. Don’t get him wrong; Scott respects the thousands of people who work for others, but he knew if there were a way he could be his own boss, he’d pursue that avenue.

“I come from an ice hockey playing family,” Scott says. “My father and grandfather played for the Bruins. I graduated from U. Mass Amherst in 2009 and played pro hockey in California. When I came back to New England, I asked myself what I wanted to do.”

What to do seemed rather easy: something involving ice hockey and a job that would allow Scott to control his own working hours and his destiny. But fashioning that into a paying job would take some creative thinking. Scott began doing research and came up with the Pond Hockey Classic formula.

Scott is very familiar with the Lakes Region and Meredith in particular. “I spent summers on the lake in Meredith when I was growing up. I know the lake and thought this would be a great place to hold the Classic.”

In his research, Scott discovered that small teams of amateur ice hockey players were traveling all over the United States and Canada to compete in ice hockey events. “I realized I could hold an event here and it would be successful.”

Wanting to hold the first Pond Hockey Classic in Meredith in the winter of 2010 and getting the supportive nod from the town and local residents and businesspeople was quite a different story. Scott got lots of practice explaining his project and goals in meetings with town officials and businesspeople. Some people wrongly assumed that Scott was planning a fishing derby and questioned why the area needed a second derby. Some didn’t understand why a bunch of grown men and women would come to the Lakes Region in the dead of winter to compete in an ice hockey tournament. Scott was able to put fears to rest and to explain his plan for the event.

“The Pond Hockey Classic isn’t a fishing derby,” Scott laughs, saying it’s all about hockey, not fish! “I had a picture in my head from the beginning of what the Classic would be and I was able to explain it to people. I knew it would bring lots of people to the area and fill hotel rooms and restaurants and that is what we did last year.”

Indeed, according to Bonnie Ireland, executive director of the Greater Meredith Program, the event has been a great economic boost when it is most needed. “Nearly all of the rooms in Meredith-area hotels were booked last year and it’s expected to be the same this year. And with so many teams coming for the event, I think hotels all around the area will be busy.”

One early and constant supporter of the Pond Hockey Classic is Rusty McLear, owner of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings (the Inns and Spa at Mill Falls in Meredith). Scott is most grateful of his encouragement.

“There is no doubt that last year – our first year of the Classic – was a tough year,” relates Scott. “We had a shaky economy and we were offering a new event unlike any that had been done here before. I had to pitch the idea to the town. But in the end we created a lot of buzz and we helped the Lakes Region economically. We were so proud to receive the Lakes Region Tourism Award for 2010. It was a nice honor.”

Those who chose the winner of the award were surely aware that Scott’s event has infused the area with much-needed tourism dollars. It has also offered internships to college students from Southern NH University and Plymouth State University. (Each year the Pond Hockey Classic works with local college students; the internships are unpaid by can be used for college credits depending upon the school.)

Last February 2010, 77 teams competed in the Classic; this year there will be 160 teams plus a waiting list of 90 teams that will play on one of 15 rinks set up on Meredith Bay. (Scott says there are also plans for a family skating rink so everyone can enjoy the ice.) The teams are comprised of “regular people” as Scott calls the competitors. Most of the teams are made up of four or five good friends who enjoy playing ice hockey. They play and compete much like friends would in a golf tournament. “I can see the event continuing to grow in popularity and become as well known and attended as Motorcycle Week in the Lakes Region each summer,” Scott adds.

Sponsorship for the Classic (Scott puts on a similar event in Vermont) helps the business run smoothly. While ice hockey is fun for such fans and players as Scott, the reality is that it costs money to coordinate and execute the events; Scott also has to make a living.

“Individual teams pay a fee to play in the Classic and we also have some great sponsors. Labatt Blue/ Earthtec and Manplow are sponsors and we have local sponsors as well,” says Scott. Local sponsors include such businesses at Preferred Vacation Rentals and Amoskeag Beverages, the Common Man restaurants, Meredith Village Savings Bank and many more.

Those who love to watch a fast-paced game of ice hockey should plan to attend the event that will be held on the ice in Meredith Bay in February. The town of Meredith promises to be just as bustling as on any busy summer’s day, which is good news to local merchants.

And for those with mid-winter cabin fever, this is a chance to grab the family and have some outdoor fun (don’t forget to bring your ice skates!) If by chance you meet a young man who is busy answering questions, coordinating teams and generally “running the show” chances are good you have spied Scott Crowder, the founder of the Pond Hockey Classic.

After the Lakes Region event, Scott will be busy with the Manchester Monarchs Pond Hockey Classic on Feb. 12 at Dorrs Pond in Manchester, NH. It is the first year for the event in Manchester and Scott is rightfully proud to have been invited by the Monarchs to coordinate the competition. The team saw what Scott was doing to bring the fun, old-time sport of a bunch of friends playing the game of ice hockey and decided they wanted in on the excitement!

For information on the Pond Hockey Classic and its events, visit www.pondhockeyclassic.com

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