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Pond Hockey Classic turns 10

The Great Lakes Pond Hockey Championship Classic is turning 10 this year, and it seems Mother Nature has cooperated for the anniversary.

Dave Johnson, who prepares the outdoors rinks for the annual tournament, said the ice near Barker’s Island is the best he’s ever seen.

“As soon as I started plowing the rinks I sent a text off to Mike McCoshen: This is the best ice we’ve ever had,” Johnson said.

The rinks are in such good shape, Johnson doesn’t even plan to flood them this year. He said one or two passes with an ice-resurfacing machine will have the ice as smooth as glass.

“No ripples, no cracks — it’s just perfect,” Johnson said.

Teams won’t have a chance to test the ice until play begins under the lights tonight, but the surface has already received a nod of approval from some out-of-town visitors.

“The Ohio State women were down there,” said Jason Rauner, tournament organizer. “They tried our rinks out for us.”

The Buckeyes came upon the hockey rinks while staying at the Barker’s Island Inn last weekend for their two-game series with the University of Minnesota Duluth.

According to their Facebook page, the Buckeyes started the day on Jan. 19 “with a pregame skate outdoors and a little pond hockey.” The women’s hockey team then traveled to AMSOIL Arena for the second game in its series with the Bulldogs.

“I’m sure it was a fun experience for them,” Johnson said. “I can’t imagine they have too many big, frozen lakes in Ohio to skate on.”

The 10th annual Great Lakes Pond Hockey Championship Classic begins today and runs through Sunday at Barker’s Island.

Registration is down slightly from last year, with 20 teams scheduled to play — all in the open division. Numbers peaked in 2009 with 47 teams.

This year, organizers tossed around a number of ideas to bring in new teams. One popular option was the addition of broomball games to the weekend event. That could become reality next year, Rauner said.

He also expressed interested in scheduling an exhibition college game on the outdoor ice.

Rauner is in his second year organizing the tournament after taking over from McCoshen in 2013.

For this year, organizers introduced one new rule change. Teams may now have up to six players, with four playing at one time. In past years, teams were only allowed five players.

“We did that because five games is a lot of hockey to play in two days,” Rauner said.

Some teams have used the new rule to revamp their lineups.

Last year’s runner-up, Stauber Brothers, has a new name and a new look this year, Rauner said. They’ll be among the challengers hoping to put an end to the three-year reign of Bud Light/Dugout Lounge as tournament champion.

“The talent is there,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be fun to watch.”

The pond hockey tournament is free for spectators, and Johnson recommended watching the games under the lights tonight before the cold weather sets in this weekend. Temperatures are expected to be below zero for Sunday’s championship games.

“We’ve dealt with cold before, so this isn’t new for us,” Rauner said. “Friday should be beautiful, and Saturday looks OK. Sunday is the one that looks cold.”

A bonfire and tent will be available to keep players and spectators warm during the tournament.

Past Winners

Open Division

2005 — Need a Fifth (Tim Nelson, Chad Matushak, Jay Matushak, Kelly Stephens)

2006 — Gopher Rejects (Justin Johnson, Chris Green, Brian Delwiche, Matt Hupila)

2007 — Armadillos (Jeremy Enders, Jamie Dowson, Ryan Johnson, Ryan Sustawenko)

2008 — Lucky’s/Shenannigan’s (Ryan O’Neill, Dan Krenn, Dave Coleman, Andy Klapperick)

2009 — Heavy Metal Hockey (Steve Rodberg, Ryan Vieau, Rheese Carlson, Ben Johnson, Tony Scherber)

2010 — Dodgie’s/Need a Fifth (Chad Matushak, Tim Nelson, Clayton Weiby, Kelly Stephens, Chris Sislo)

2011 — Bud Light/Dugout Lounge (Kyle Nosan, Kevin Kuklinski, Eric Bausano, Dustin LaValley, Eric Dahlberg)

2012 — Bud Light/Dugout Lounge (Rheese Carlson, Eric Dahlberg, Kyle Nosan, Kevin Kuklinski, Dustin LaValley)

2013 — Bug Light/Dugout Lounge (Rhesse Carlson, Eric Dahlberg, Kyle Nosan, Kevin Kuklinski, Dustin LaValley)

Senior Division

2007 — MHL Fab Four (Rick Eisenmann, Ken Mertz, Gary Kucharyski, Steve Sorenson, Mike Susens)

2008 — Too Old & Cold (Terry Schold, Travis Schold, Greg Kaake, Pete Hanson)

2009 — Rusty Five (Gary Gilbertson, Joel Heikes, Dane Youngblom, Russ Williams, Mike Hinaus)

2010 — Too Old & Cold (Terry Schold, Travis Schold, Gary Kucharyski, Pete Hanson)

2013 — Too Old & Cold (Ryan Schold, Terry Schold, Travis Schold, Gary Kucharyski, Ken Mertz)

Women’s Division

2009 — Don Leigh’s Ladies (Jill Thompson, Terri Fair, Stephanie Keup, Erica VanDamme, DeeDee Kolanczyk)