By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – With Dean Park Pond in Shrewsbury far from frozen, Shrewsbury Youth Hockey (SYH) moved its second annual Pond Hockey Classic indoors for the second year in a row on Feb. 4-5.
After an unusually warm January last year, organizers scrambled to adapt the tournament to fit the confines of the Buffone Arena in Worcester. Forced inside under nearly identical circumstances this year, they found they were able to draw on their experience and accomplish many of their goals for the planned outdoor tournament.
“In terms of playing the game, all of it’s the same with the exception of not having the fresh air and the wind and the sun which certainly changes it a little bit,” said SYH president Harry Gaston. “They play in a small space and touch the puck a lot more than they do in a regular game. It’s very good for them.”
The tournament drew 22 teams. Of those, 13 called Shrewsbury itself home while nine, including one team from Rhode Island, traveled to Buffone Arena from other towns. The teams started play Feb. 4 with mite and squirt games, and concluded on Feb. 5 with peewee and bantam games.
Each division featured pool play where teams competed against each other without goalies. At the end of pool play, organizers placed teams in a playoff bracket based on their goal differential.
“I like the speed. There are quick decisions and it’s fast paced,” said RJ Jerrett, a Milford native whose son, Nathan, played in the tournament. “There’s no stopping and there are many teams. There are many, many kids here.”
Organizers took care to preserve key aspects of their game otherwise exclusive to pond hockey. They ran four games at a time on small 50 foot by 100 foot rinks. They filled teams with players of different skill levels and encouraged creativity by deemphasizing positions in the games.
“It’s about bringing it back to back-yard, street play where you just play and have fun,” said Patrick Moore, a member of the organizing committee and a coach in the mite division. “This is about all those kids coming together and doing something different and having fun doing that.”
Moore has been involved with the Pond Hockey Classic since its inception last winter and said the past two years spent indoors have allowed SYH to perfect the logistics of the event.
“It really is all the little things,” he said. “The hockey is the easy part. When you throw kids on the ice, they’ll figure it out. But all the little things around getting the timing right, the games, the scoreboards; these are all iterations of last year.”
Moore and Gaston both hope that next year, Dean Park will have enough ice to support the event. Surveying this year’s tournament, however, Gaston is also embracing the possibility of expanding the current indoor format.
“One of the things we might consider is actually doing more of these types of tournaments throughout the year and just playing them indoors,” he said. “They’re so good for the kids’ development and they really have a great time. You can feel the energy in here.”
For two years, Gaston, Moore and their colleagues at SYH have planned an outdoor tournament, but been forced to instead hold one indoors, under fluorescent lights and between Plexiglas boards. Even so, they have enjoyed strong attendance and numerous sponsors from the community.
“Until you do it, you really are wondering how it’s going to go,” Moore said. “It’s an interesting concept to think of a pond hockey tournament in an [indoor] rink. But so far, the last two years have been great. We’ve had a lot of good feedback and I hope we continue to get a lot of interest. It’s a real fun event.”