Two balaclavas under his hockey helmet and cage. Fleece gloves inside his hockey gloves. Full hockey gear. A couple of Caesar libations for the body.
That’s what you need—or at least it’s what Vernon’s Randy Wilson requires—to partake in the Labatt Blue USA Adult Pond Hockey Championships, held on the frozen waters of Dollar Lake in Eagle Bay, Wisconsin, nearly five hours north of Milwaukee.
“It’s a great event,” said Wilson, 55, a former broadcaster turned financial advisor.
Wilson’s brother, Dean, lives in Milwaukee and has played in all 14 of the annual pond hockey events. He kept inviting his brother to come down and play for his team, B.A. Sports, a sports establishment in Milwaukee.
Three years ago, Wilson said, “Fine. I bought a ticket, let’s see what this is all about.”
Co-sponsored by Labatt Blue and USA Hockey, the Adult Pond Hockey Championships are played on Dollar Lake, a body of water that is “bigger than Swan Lake and smaller than Kal Lake,” said Wilson, every February.
The Eagle River Fire Department creates 30 specially-marked rinks, each separated by snow banks, for the championships which brings teams/players from across North America. In 2018, there were about 300 teams playing in 20 non-checking divisions with more than 2,000 players competing.
Wilson and B.A. Sports went 1-2 at this year’s tournament in the beginner/novice division.
“The competition in our division, well, there’s a lot of sandbagging that goes on, as we learned,” laughed Wilson. “We were playing a team, all under the age of 30, in a beginner division, and they’re doing the dangle thing on us.
“We said, ‘You guys are in the wrong division.’ It’s a really fun event, but some of the more competitive divisions get very serious about it.
“We play for the glory of the game, and the case of cold beer.”
After each game, each team is given a case of Labatt Blue and Labatt Blue Light.
Games are two, 15-minute halves played, this year, in -21C weather with 20 mile-per-hour winds making it feel like -36C, and on what Wilson calls “bad lake ice.”
“The pucks bounce,” he said. “What you consider normal ice in a hockey rink resembles nothing like the pond ice. There are big cracks. You’ve got to watch how you skate so you don’t turn an ankle or break a leg.”
The bad ice can also cause the puck to jump, whether stick handling, off a pass or a shot. One of the rules of the pond hockey championships is players are not supposed to raise the puck which can lead to pain if a player gets struck by the puck in an area with no padding.
Goalies can’t wear full gear, and they can’t drop on the ice. The nets are small four-inch high bars, and the same width as a regular hockey net, but players have to put the puck under the four-inch high bar to score, so that keeps all passes and shots low. Goalies wear full plastic skate covers over their skates to protect the feet on low shots.
“Occasionally the puck goes high, it happens a few times,” said Wilson. “You try to stay out of the way (of shots and passes). The skin cuts so easy at that temperature.
“I took one shot inside the elbow that caught the fleshy part. The sting was instant and very, very deep. It required two beers, STAT.”
Seeing his brother, his hockey brethren, the chance to partake in ice-cold—literally—Labatt products and the camaraderie associated with the tournament will have Wilson packing long johns, fleece gloves and balaclavas for a trip south every February.
“I’ll keep going back as long as the body and wife (Gayle) let me,” he said.