Hockey’s frozen roots

LAKE PLACID – The CAN/AM pond hockey tournament is growing. More than 300 players have turned out for this year’s old-school games on Mirror Lake.

The tournament kicked off on Friday, with games continuing through Sunday. CAN/AM director Eric Chapman said there are 55 teams consisting of about six players each participating this weekend. They will compete on 16 rinks set up on the ice behind Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, where the event headquarters are set up.

The turnout shows that the event continues to grow since its first year in 2005.

“The first (year) we had right around 18 or 20 teams, and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger every year,” Chapman said. “Last year we had 48 teams. This year we had 55, and we had to turn away some teams that tried to sign up too late.”

But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some bumps in the road along the way. Several years, including the last one, the games have had to be held at the nearby Olympic Speedskating Oval because of warm weather and thin ice conditions. Just last week, Chapman said organizers were unsure if Mirror Lake’s ice would be thick enough to host this year’s games.

A deep freeze this week changed that. He said a measurement taken mid-week showed there was about a foot of ice on Mirror Lake.

Having that thick ice not only means the players can skate worry-free on the lake, but it also means that the organizers have been able to use machinery to clear and smooth the rinks.

That’s good news because many of the hockey players have travelled a long distance to get here.

“We’ve had guys from Texas before, Alberta, from the Midwest,” Chapman said, “teams from all over the Northeast, Quebec, Ontario, local guys. It’s one of those things where it’s a very popular thing, so guys are wiling to travel and do this.”

One team that travelled here is Old and in the Way, from Ohio. Captain Tom Boniface said his squad has been coming since the tournament’s beginning, one of the few to do that.

“We were playing hockey back home in pick-up games, and I saw the ad for CAN/AM in Lake Placid to do this pond hockey thing,” Boniface said. “It just struck me, so I got a bunch of guys together and we drove up – in 2005. It was 18 below zero. I thought we were out of our minds, and we’ve been coming back every year since. This is our ninth year.”

Boniface said the scenic setting of Lake Placid is one of the big draws for him.

“This is a great city. It’s magic up here,” Boniface said. “Living down in the flatlands of Ohio, coming up here and looking at Whiteface Mountain every day (is great). I love to ski, and I’ve always loved the cold, and I’m fortunate enough to have a bunch of guys that are crazy enough to do this with me. We all leave our wives and families and kids and jobs at home, and these are experiences we’ll never have again.”

Boniface’s teammate Jim Rapone, who is 67, said his ties to pond hockey date back to the 1950s.

“Every year that you come up here, it reminds you of being a child,” he said. “It’s a very heartwarming thing. You need to hold onto those things in your life.”

Rapone said that one of his favorite parts of visiting is playing hockey in the dark with his friends on the night they arrive. It’s become a tradition.

“Last night, we had the best game of all,” he said. “We played six little 8-year-olds. They taught us a lesson.”

For Rob Vail, this is the second year his team, the New Jersey-based Cones, has been in the tournament. He said the fun atmosphere is a big attraction.

“It’s just the camaraderie of drinking with your friends and playing hockey outside,” he said. “There’s nothing better.”

When asked if his team won many games, he said, “We very rarely win, so if that were important we really wouldn’t be here.”

Contact Mike Lynch at 518-891-2600 ext. 28 or