The Sadlers Wheat Kings certainly will have their work cut out for them this weekend in defense of their World Pond Hockey Championship when the eighth outdoor tournament is staged across 24 rinks on Roulston Lake in Plaster Rock, N.B.
The four-man team of Charlie Cameron, Jeff Peddigrew and Bob Brown, each of Fredericton, N.B., and Dave Myles, of Quispamsis, N.B., are gearing up for the other 119 clubs out to claim their crown. Perhaps this will be the year the Bermuda Rum Runners, Puckweisers of Massachusetts, the California Ice-aholics, the All Girls Team of Nova Scotia or maybe The Pharoah's Global Connection of Egypt will earn the title of world's best team on the pond.
The World Pond Hockey Championship, which is part of Tim Horton
's Hockey Day in Canada presented by CBC, first was held in Plaster Rock in 2002. There were 64 teams that competed in that first event, most of which were from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Maine. Today, a maximum of 120 teams spanning 15 countries and six continents are invited via a lottery system.
"There's a huge number of participants, and Plaster Rock isn't New York City," CBC broadcaster P.J. Stock
told NHL.com. "You're out in the middle of nowhere, playing hockey on a lake with a bunch of buddies, and afterwards you have a bunch of beers. Don't forget, you're not staying in a five-star chalet either; it's old school. It's hockey in its purest form outdoors and in the elements."
Aside from the hundreds of hockey enthusiasts that travel to Plaster Rock each February for the tournament, the event attracts thousands of spectators and media from around the globe. The 2009 event, which will be featured on CBC and Hockey Night in Canada, is scheduled to begin Thursday and will conclude Sunday with the presentation of the Goodwill Cup trophy to the winner.
"I'll have to do some interviews for CBC, and if I see that team from Egypt I'm going right after them," Stock said. "I have to find out where and how they practice. That's amazing to me and it's such an interesting story. Really, though, they are coming from all over to visit Plaster Rock and play four-on-four pond hockey and show their love for the game."
On Thursday, each team -- which consists of four players and no goalie -- will play one game in a round-robin format. Teams will play two games apiece Friday and Saturday, and then the single-elimination playoff round commences Sunday. There may be crowds in excess of 8,000 during the four days.
"When I played hockey and before I was forced to retire, this is the stuff I enjoyed most," said Stock, who played seven NHL seasons from 1997-2004 with the Rangers, Canadiens, Flyers and Bruins. "As a kid you remember playing with your brother or with your buddies. You remember all that stuff and this brings most guys back to their youth. For me, watching this and being around it, that's exactly what it's going to be like."
The World Pond Hockey event has helped contribute more than $250,000 toward a new indoor arena not far from Roulston Lake that currently is under construction.
The tournament is more about camaraderie and trading stories and hockey jerseys than anything else. The games that take place under the lights certainly rehash childhood memories of those late-night childhood contests played just before dinner.
"Everyone who now plays in the NHL all started on a pond, playing four-on-four with no equipment," Stock said. "You just wore a toque and carried an old stick and that was good enough. They call it the World Pond Hockey Championship, but they can call it whatever they want, really, because to me, it's old school."
A local team, the Tobique Puckers, earned the first World Pond Hockey Championship title in 2002. The following year, Progressive Planning of Fredericton claimed the trophy. From 2004-07, the Boston Danglers emerged victorious. While the Danglers aren't among the clubs participating this year, the Tobique Puckers and Progressive Planning are back.
"When I played hockey and before I was forced to retire, this is the stuff I enjoyed most. As a kid you remember playing with your brother or with your buddies. You remember all that stuff and this brings most guys back to their youth. For me, watching this and being around it, that's exactly what it's going to be like."
-- CBC analyst and former NHL player P.J. Stock
"Winning this type of tournament has nothing to do with how fast or strong the players are," Stock said. "The smartest team wins this thing; it's a chess match out there. Four older guys could go out and win this as long as they are smart. If you play the right areas on the ice and cover the angles the right way, you have just as much of a chance as anyone else."
Stock admits Sunday's playoff round will be intense.
"There are refs, but it's not unusual to see guys knocking each other off the puck; it's hockey," Stock said. "With each round the players will be more focused and determined. In the end, though, it's all about high-fives and having fun."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.