Where The Past Meets The Present

Pond Hockey Brings The Game And Those Who Play It Back To Their Roots

If Henry David Thoreau were alive today, he would likely be among the legion of adult hockey players with sticks and skates slung over their shoulders wandering through the snowy woods to the banks of Dollar Lake.

It's here in Eagle River, a town of 1,500 nestled in the center of Wisconsin's famous Northwoods, where the Fountain of Youth has its winter address. It's a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, where players, bundled up against the elements, race across an open sheet of ice, surrounded by acres of pristine white snow under a canopy of brilliant blue sky with a backdrop of evergreens. 

The canvas hasn't changed much over the years, unless you count the additional rinks carved out of the snow to accommodate the ever-increasing number of players who make the pilgrimage to this makeshift hockey Mecca to participate in the Labatt Blue USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships. 

For three frosty days every February, more than 2,000 adult hockey players from 30 states converge on the "snowmobile capital of the world" looking to recapture simpler times, when the light in the sky was the only clock that mattered, when teams were chosen from a pile of sticks and success was measured by how much fun you had with friends. 

Mark "Mugsy" DePuydt knows this better than most. Over the past 14 winters, the 66-year-old Eagle River native has never missed a tournament. He has seen many changes since the first puck dropped in 2006, but the more things may change, the essence of the event remains the same.

"What it's come to after all these years is it has not changed, and that's the beauty of it," said DePuydt, who became the face of the tournament when his smiling face graced the cover of USA Hockey Magazine back in 2007. 

"It highlights the roots of hockey, and that's what I love about it. It's the way I remember hockey.

"Of course, it means a lot to the town.  That's all great but it's more what it does for hockey. And that's what it's all about." 

 

Issue: 
2019-04

Poll

Who is your favorite American NHL player?: