Polar Pond Hockey – an event that has fast become an annual tradition – was back for its seventh year this past weekend.
And a lot of the players were also back.
In fact, Curtis Rowe, one of the organizers of the March 20 to 22 event, said there were returning players from many other communities, both in the NWT and Alberta.
“I think it’s people that have been to it, really enjoyed it and decided they’re going to come back,” he said of the out-of-town players.
There were individual players – many competing with Hay River teams – from the Alberta communities of Cochrane, Calgary, Peace River and Grimshaw, plus teams from High Level.
The NWT was also well-represented with four teams from Fort Simpson, three from Fort Smith and one from Yellowknife.
“This is probably the most out-of-town players and teams that we’ve had,” said Rowe.
In all, there were 10 out-of-town teams.
Kevin Wallington was playing in his fourth Polar Pond Hockey tournament.
“It’s really an outstanding community event,” he said. “So much goes into making this happen. I think there was a little bit of concern when we saw some of the warmer temperatures but it looks like the weather is turned around and it’s just been beautiful weather. It’s still a little chilly to remind us we’re playing back rink hockey.”
Wallington believes the event became even more significant this year because of the strike by unionized municipal workers that resulted in the arena recently being closed.
“It’s really important this year for everybody,” he said. “With us not having a second half of the season, I think everyone is excited to get out and finish the year off with some fun hockey.”
On the Thursday evening, before the event officially started, minor hockey players were invited to play on the eight rinks on the East Channel of the Hay River.
Brian Stevens, who recently moved to Hay River from British Columbia, was playing in his first Polar Pond Hockey.
In fact, he said he had never before played pond hockey, and was enjoying the experience.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
In all, there were 35 teams registered with five players to each team.
The highest number of teams the event ever had was 45 several years ago.
“So this year is a little bit down from that but it’s pretty close to the average,” said Rowe.
One of the very positive signs for Polar Pond Hockey this year was the record number of 10 female teams.
Aside from being a fun event, Rowe said Polar Pond Hockey also helps the economy of Hay River.
“You’re bringing people into town at a time when there are not a lot of other things bringing people to town,” he explained. “We think it’s doing great that way.”