Grand Lake officials reports its largest-ever Pond Hockey Classic
The sixth annual Grand Lake Pond Hockey Classic welcomed players and spectators to Colorado’s largest natural lake Feb. 4. While the tournament hosted the most teams in its history — 50 across three divisions — it had nearly 20 teams on the waitlist.
“I had to cut it off at 50,” tournament organizer Brian Blumenfeld said. “I can’t build and maintain more than five rinks. Games start at 9 a.m., and based on how much daylight we have, the most that we could have is 50 teams.”
Grand Lake Chamber Director Emily Hagen said the team that traveled the farthest for the event came from Alaska. She added the tournament sold out in about 24 hours when registration opened Dec. 1, 2022.
“We start getting calls usually around August,” Hagen said. “I tell them they have to wait until December 1, but it’s been great to see how much this has grown and how it’s become part of our culture here.”
Blumenfeld organizes the tournament’s three divisions based on skill level. The Fox Division is the beginner level, Elk Division is intermediate and Moose Division is advanced. With each group having 16-18 teams, the three-on-three tournament ran from 9 a.m. until sunset, with a new round of 20-minute games starting every half hour.
Preparing the rinks involves clearing the snow and pumping lake water onto each rink five to seven times so the surface is as smooth as possible, Blumenfeld said. The combination of around 2 feet of snow and the 3 Lakes Fishing Contest on Grand Lake the weekend before the hockey tournament caused problems, though.
“The weight of that snow pushes the ice down a little bit,” Blumenfeld said. “There’s all those holes, and the ice is pushed down, all that water just comes up and then it spreads underneath the snow. And because it’s under the snow, it doesn’t freeze, and it’s just this slushiness that seeped across all the rinks.”
The slush brought the rinks back to square one, Blumenfeld said, which would not have been much of a challenge if Blumenfeld had not fractured his jaw while playing in a Fraser men’s hockey league game on Jan. 30, meaning he had to spend the next two days going to doctor appointments.
Blumenfeld, who in true hockey fashion put off his jaw surgery until Monday, said he got some help and was able to do more flooding the day before the tournament to get the rinks in good condition.
“It’s natural lake ice,” Blumenfeld said. “It’s not like playing in an arena with a Zamboni, but, they’re in pond hockey rink condition, and, you know, the show goes on.”
Mike Kinmartin, a member of the Mid Ice Crisis team, said that the ice was a bit choppy, but that is part of the game. Kinmartin came from Castle Rock for the tournament and heard about it through one of his teammates, who has a vacation house in Grand Lake and celebrated his 60th birthday the day before the tournament.
Mid Ice Crisis played in its first Grand Lake Pond Hockey Classic this year, although Kinmartin said some of his teammates had played in other pond hockey tournaments.
“This is my first time playing pond hockey,” Kinmartin said. “I haven’t played hockey in eight years. I used to coach and play.”
Kinmartin and his team, playing in the Fox Division, won their first game, but did not take home the championship. The Mother Puckers took home the Fox Division championship, while Play It Again Sports won the Elk Division and Blunderwoods topped the Moose Division.
Perhaps the most impressive win came from the Clusterpucks, which came out on top in the best team name competition on the Grand Lake Chamber’s Facebook page.
The tournament benefited more than just the out-of-town players, though. Parker’s Platoon, the Grand Lake-based nonprofit started by former Avalanche team member and Stanley Cup Champion Scott Parker, had a trailer set up at the lake and raised money for its work helping veterans and retired professional athletes with PTSD and traumatic brain and body injuries.
Players and their families coming into town also provides a boost to Grand Lake’s businesses — something Mayor Steve Kudron called “the beginning of a realization of a long-term goal of creating a year-round economy for Grand Lake.”
“With the help of the chamber, we have been able to bring really spectacular events into the winter season,” Kudron said. “It’s really growing the opportunity to show people that you can recreate. The ice fishing tournament last week — you sportsmen, the lake is used all year long.”
Blumenfeld said the turnout this year impressed him — not just of the players, but of the Grand Lake residents going out on the lake to watch the games.
“The town was absolutely jam packed all day,” Blumenfeld said. “All the businesses were jam packed, all the restaurants and bars and everything. The feedback has been nothing but over-the-top excitement about the event.”
Next year’s tournament could expand to more than 50 teams, if Blumenfeld can figure out how to fit more hockey into the limited hours of daylight. Whatever future pond hockey classics’ capacities may be, Blumenfeld said this year felt like the fulfillment of a 2018 Sky-Hi News headline from the tournament’s first year: “A tradition is born: First annual Grand Lake Pond Hockey Classic held over weekend.”
“After this year, it really feels like this is now a fully entrenched, fully celebrated Grand Lake winter tradition,” Blumenfeld said. “I’m just so happy to be able to bring it to the town and celebrate both Grand Lake and the sport of hockey in that location, with that scenery, with all those people who have the same mindset.”
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