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Lake Bemidji Pond Hockey Classic: New festival brings energy to ice

Team J&M in red and Lazy Jacks Budweiser Big North in white work the second half of their Saturday morning match in the Lake Bemidji Pond Hockey Classic. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron1 / 2
Mike Lundin of Team J&M in the Lake Bemidji Pond Hockey Classic takes a halftime break Saturday morning with his son, Dylan, 3, and Dylan's grandfather, Dave Upgren. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron2 / 2

A sunny winter day, the hiss of skates on ice, the mixed scents of barbecue, kettle corn and mini doughnuts, and the cheers of spectators and encouraging shouts of teammates - the first Lake Bemidji Pond Hockey Classic has added a new dimension to winter festivals.

"Here's your coach," said Sheryl Lundin as her 3-year-old grandson slid up to his father, Mike Lundin, for a hug.

Mike was taking a break between the two 15-minute halves of his J&M team's match against the Lazy Jacks Budweiser Big North players.

Everybody's name on the team starts with a J or an M," Mike said before hopping over the boards to scramble for the puck as the second half commenced.

"It's a family affair here - what a gorgeous day for this," said Dylan's grandfather, Dave Upgren, who was also watching the sport with Dylan's aunt, Marilyn Upgren.

Matt Hempstead, a member of Lazy Jacks, said he has played hockey, but "I wouldn't say exactly like this."

Pond hockey is played without goalies and with four players from each team on the ice at a time. A team scores when a player shoots the puck through one of two shallow slots in the wooden goal.

"Pretty intense, really quick," said player Dan Foster of the Ice Hole team.

His team was playing the Pond Stars Saturday morning.

"It's fun to bring hockey outside for those who aren't in organized leagues any more," said Bre Bian, a Pond Star player who recently graduated from Concordia College and played on the women's hockey team there.

Although the official teams had to be made up of players who are 18 or older, children slid around in boots playing puck keep-away on makeshift ponds or on ponds in line to be resurfaced.

Derek Leach, manager of festival sponsor Hampton Inn & Suites and Green Mill Restaurant, and one of the pond hockey tournament organizers, said if there are spare rinks today, they might arrange for children to play. The rinks are near the Hampton.

"This is our learning year," said David Cermak, ice manager. "We're figuring out how to keep the ice good between games. We should have a couple of people (who) all they do is slush in cracks."

Volunteers used snow scoops to remove the shavings kicked up by the skaters before Cermak brought in the "Hamboni," a water tank on a trailer pulled by a four-wheeler. The device was designed and built by Brian Hammitt for his backyard rink. It dribbles water onto the ice and smoothes it out with a drag rag.

"A lot of energy brought to Bemidji with this (pond hockey)," Hammitt said.

Play will continue at 8 a.m. today. Refreshments are available in the warming tent and parking is available on the ice near the rinks.