The swish of skates, the slap of pucks, the blare of music and the cheers of supporters were the sounds reverberating Saturday on Lake Bemidji near the Hampton Inn.
The second year for the Lake Bemidji Pond Hockey Classic drew 25 teams to face off four-on-four on 56-by-108-foot rinks. The rinks, larger than the 48-by-96-foot surfaces set up for the 2010 tournament, give skaters more room to maneuver and score. And the play is fast.
The weather was about perfect for the Pond Hockey Classic Saturday - cold for good ice, but with little wind and bright with strong late-winter sunshine.
The action will continue today beginning at 9 a.m. with double elimination. There will be a $500 prize for teams in each bracket.
The organizers have cleared several parking lots on the ice, which they said is safe for driving at 3 feet thick.
"This is awesome," said Brett Bahr, a member of the Beehive Liquor team. "I look forward to it every year now. It's hockey at its finest. No checking, just skill."
Bahr said he played hockey as a student in International Falls and club hockey at Bemidji State University. Last year, he said, his team was the runner up, losing by one point.
Mike Edminster, a member of the MarketPlace team said the play is fast with two 15-minute halves. "Tiring, though," he said as he hopped over the boards to tag his substitute.
Spectators also joined the fun, some sitting on rink-side chairs provided by organizers, but most walking around, visiting and cheering players on.
"I was here last year - it's pretty fun to watch," said Ashley Wiese.
"Our son plays and has a good time," said Maria Stay, watching the Bemidji Ice Rockets, along with other family members.
She said her son, Jake Stay, and his friends from the Bemidji High School classes of 1999 and 2000 make the Pond Hockey Classic a reunion.
"They have a fun weekend together," she said. "I'm glad (Bemidji) started this. It's nice they brought this much effort to bring people home."
Melissa Vacek, program director for the Hampton Inn, said women are also competing in the tournament.
"We have a couple of mixed teams, and we have an all-girls team," she said.
Vacek presided over a souvenir sales table with pucks, hats and shirts labeled with the Pond Hockey Classic logo and the motto: "The way hockey was meant to be played."
Also available in the main tent are refreshments such as pulled pork sandwiches, chili and hotdogs and a bar set up by the Green Mill.
"We have coffee," said Hillary Hood, a Green Mill employee. "But beer is way popular."