Generations of Fun

Players of all levels and backgrounds find joy at 2023 USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships

Carter Ypma whipped around Rink 13 at the Rinks at the Derby Complex in search of his father, Robin, this past February in Eagle River, Wisconsin. 

“Hey! Put that old man into the snowbank!” Carter hollered toward his Milwaukee Tools teammates with a big grin.

Robin quickly responded in laughter, “You wish, son!” before passing the puck to his linemate on a beautiful and crisp Saturday morning. 

Twenty-four hours earlier, the 230 teams participating at the 17th annual USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships were greeted with morning snow showers as they piled out of their SUVS, pick-up trucks, cars and rental vans at the quaint Wisconsin town 150 miles northwest of Green Bay.

Robin is no stranger to competing at the national championships. In fact, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, native and his team, the Kromers, have been competing in Eagle River for over 15 years since USA Hockey first hosted the event in 2006. 

Therefore, it was only a matter of time before his son eventually joined him for a weekend of pond hockey.

“Us old guys have been coming here for years,” Robin said. “One of the guys has a lake house just outside of town, so we stay there and it’s awesome. As soon as Carter was 21, he came up and subbed with us in 2018 before creating his own team. This year he and his friends spent the night at the house here with a big, big party barn. There’s a 1-on-1 connection between me and my son, but when everybody else gets together it’s all fun.”

Carter and his buddies may have gotten bragging rights with an 18-12 victory over his father’s squad in the Tin Can Division, but it is the time together that will create lasting memories. 

“Hockey is a good second,” Carter concluded. “It’s about hanging out with the boys.”

‘It’s the ultimate girls’ weekend’

Carrie Kirkbride grabbed the USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championship trophy for the Women’s Intermediate Division and lifted it high into the air. 

Following years of heartbreak and runner-up finishes, her team the Starpucks had finally become champions. 

“We all were walking in with our nerves trying not to puke because we were very excited to get to the championship,” Kirkbride said. “We have been here in years past and have never won a game, so to be able to come in here and win all four, it was just lights out. We're so excited. We can't believe we did it.”

Some of the teammates have known each other for a decade, while other friendships have been formed in the last few years. 

The one constant, says Kirkbride, is that all the ladies continue to circle the pond hockey date on the calendar every year – and they weren’t the only ones.

There were 34 women’s teams participating in Eagle River this year.

“This is the ultimate girls’ weekend,” Kirkbride concluded. “You’re hanging out with all your ladies and you’re playing hockey. There is nothing better than that. Oh, and you are drinking beer!”

 

From parent to player

Michael Sievers was a 41-year-old dad sitting in an ice rink in Virginia watching his daughter, Vivian, play hockey when the thought crossed his mind. 

“I’d rather be on the ice with my daughter,” Sievers recalls thinking. 

Sievers then proceeded to buy $250 worth of used adult hockey gear and signed up for a few learn to play clinics. Six years later, Sievers found himself toasting a Coors Light with his Whiskey Sticks teammates at the Derby Complex before competing in his first-ever outdoor hockey game. 

“I can’t believe how much more it takes out of your legs to play on the ice outside,” Sievers said. “My daughter is now a senior in high school and we’ve had opportunities to play in some pickup games together at home. It was great to be inspired by her to get started at something like this. I’m sure she’s jealous of me being out here already.”

Similarly, Dairne Mayer was a hockey mom in Illinois when a group of fellow parents asked if she would like to play hockey with them. 

Mayer, who grew up in Canada, knew how to ice skate, but she had never learned how to play hockey. The 42-year-old figured she would give it a shot, and within a few years she too was making the trek to Eagle River. This year she played for the Helle’s Belles. 

“I went a few times and I was hooked, and it's just so much fun,” Mayer said. “You feel like a kid out there and it keeps me healthy. It’s great cardio.”

Mayer hopes that other adults realize that it is never too late to learn how to skate and to pick up a hockey stick. And once they do that, the next step is booking a trip to Eagle River for the USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships. 

“There are some women who play in our division at home that learned to skate as adults,” Mayer said. “I really couldn't even do a hockey stop when I first started, but once you're on the ice and you can pick it up, I've seen people who start in their 40s easily learn.” 

 

Age is just a number for ‘Ledge’

Larry Martin’s breath slowly rose into the blue sky on the final day of the USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships. 

The oldest competitor at the event this year, fittingly nicknamed “Ledge” – for legend –  by his Original Vikings teammates, placed his stick on the ice and let a sly grin cross his face. 

The 75-year-old then looked around and put his hands into the air.

“I wouldn’t miss this,” Martin said. “This is hockey. I still live it, breathe it. It never gets old.” 

Martin has competed at all 17 Pond Hockey National Championships, and he takes tremendous pride in remaining young at heart.  He still jokes that he is Bobby Hull just as he did as a kid when he would be sending slap shots toward a warming house six decades ago. 

“The camaraderie is really what keeps us going,” Martin said of he and the other three teams in the 60+ Division. “It’s the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker and we’re all friends.  Everyone’s helping everybody out and having fun.”

The 2023 USA Hockey Pond National Championships had to be moved to the Rinks at the Derby Complex because of weather conditions affecting the ice quality at Dollar Lake, but that did not take away from the experience for first-time player Alaina Degiacomo, who is also one of the youngest competitors at 21 years old. 

“This is really cool because there are 18 rinks and the range is just massive and you get to see all types of different people play with all different skill levels,” Degiacomo said. “It’s a lot of fun to be a part of – just even walking around, seeing the Derby track is really cool too.”

The different backgrounds and journeys to Eagle River from so many different walks of life continue to bring a smile, and an occasional tear, to Don Mulder’s face. Mulder, the chairman and vice president of USA Hockey’s Adult Council, helped create the marquee event and he spent the weekend not only thanking the countless volunteers and staff who helped put on the event, but also observing the pure joy and happiness that engulfs everyone in attendance.  

“You see these people mingle and sit and talk when they aren’t playing,” Mulder said. “Guys who were in their 50s or 60s are talking, laughing and having a beer with kids who are 21. That is what it is all about.”

Mulder pauses and looks at the hundreds of players, and then up at the sky.

“You can talk about Eagle River. You can watch it on video. You can read about it. You can hear people talking about how great an event it is, but you can’t experience it until you are actually here. You need to see it yourself. You need to witness it.”

Issue: 
2023-03

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