The boards are in place, the warming tent is up and seven rinks are polished for the first Lake Bemidji Pond Hockey Classic beginning today and continuing through Sunday, Feb. 28.
As of Thursday afternoon, 22 teams had signed up for the tournament, but organizer Brett Leach, Hampton Inn & Suites marketing manager, said he expects 30 or more in competition before the play begins.
"We filled every sponsor level," said Derek Leach as he and Brian Allen stapled the sponsors' signs to the boards surrounding the rinks. He said 14 sponsors are backing Bemidji's first pond hockey events. Derek Leach is manager of the Hampton Inn & Suites and Green Mill Restaurant, and one of the pond hockey tournament organizers.
Dave Cermak using Big Oly, the Olympia ice resurfacer, had cleaned and scraped the ice smooth and was carting water Thursday to add glassy layers to the rinks.
"It'll be the nicest ice a pond hockey player has played on - that's our slogan," said Derek Leach.
The festivities begin at 6 p.m. today in the warming tent with legendary Bemidji State University hockey coach R.H. "Bob" Peters and Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann addressing players during the team social.
Derek Leach said some organizers had been talking of starting a pond hockey tournament for several years. He said they thought of hiring an experienced crew to get the project going, "Then we realized we have the resources in this city to do it ourselves."
Brett Leach had volunteered at the United States Pond Hockey Classic on Lake Nokomis in the Twin Cities last month to learn some tournament management techniques.
Each team consists of six skaters, with four team members from each side on the ice at one time. Matches consist of two 15-minute halves with a two-minute intermission between periods. There is no goalie. To score, the players must hit the puck into a goal box.
The tournament provides competition in women's, open mixed and men's leagues. Team members must be 18 or older and wear helmets. Registration costs $350 per team. Proceeds will benefit the Bemidji Figure Skating Club, Pioneer Speedskating Club and Bemidji Youth Hockey. For more information, call 333-4495 or online at bemidjipondhockey.com.
There is no charge for spectators to stand around the rinks to watch the action, which will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The heated tent will provide concessions of food and drinks, including beer, and live music Saturday, Feb. 27. There will be fireworks over Lake Bemidji after dark Feb. 27 and Cermakwill build a giant bonfire on the ice.