EAGLE RIVER, Wis. - Any time the Olympic Winter Games occur, the hockey world is held captive by the premier display of hockey talent from around the world. Such a collection of high-caliber talent on the international stage is cause for celebration and appreciation of the greatest sport on ice.
It seems only fitting that this spectacle of professional athletes striving to reach the pinnacle of our sport coincides with the largest organized tournament that brings hockey back to its outdoor roots. The 2014 Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships taking place this weekend have a distinct Olympic flair in Eagle River, Wis. this year.
“The Olympic experience is hard to put into words,” said Guy Gosselin, two-time U.S. Olympian and current manager of the American Development Model for USA Hockey. “[The feeling fits right in with] this tournament and the Eagle River community. It’s excellent for these events to coincide.”
Amidst all the 600 games taking place on Dollar Lake this year, nearly all of the 2,300 players participating will pay close attention to the action in Sochi, Russia. Coincidentally, the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team defeated Finland, 3-1, at 2 a.m. local time this morning to open Olympic play.
“It was really exciting to watch the Olympics while we’re out here playing on the ice they way we did as kids. It reminds us of why we fell in love with the sport in the first place,” said Jimmy Blakely, one of the over 2,300 skaters at the 2014 Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships. “I know everyone feels a real connection out here.”
While the U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team won’t take the ice until Thursday morning (Feb. 13), the Olympics have permeated every level of the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championship – all the way down to the beverage containers.
Earlier this month, Labatt debuted cans featuring past and present jerseys of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Teams, including the gold medal-winning 1960 and 1980 squads, and the silver medalists from 2002 and 2010.
Lisa Texido, a brand manger with Labatt Blue USA, said the cans came about during a serendipitous phone call. After such a warm reception to the cans, Texido said she could not have been more pleased with the aesthetic results of the cans and they way they have connected with fans.
“We are so thrilled with the way they turned out,” Texido said. “We’re so excited that the consumers are into them. It’s really turned into something bigger than we had hoped. We’re just so pumped that it turned out the way it did.”
Ultimately, the buzz emanating off Dollar Lake during this weekend of hockey in the elements stands as tribute of the closeness of the hockey community. Whether it’s a team playing outside for the first time, former NCAA champions getting back in touch with their roots, 50-and-over veterans, or the Olympians in Sochi, USA Hockey is an all-encompassing entity, helping to foster a life-long love for the game.
“Bringing together so many different kinds of players is what this is all about,” said tournament director Scott Aldrich. “We’re able to connect all levels of the sport and support the grassroots campaign at the same time.
“It’s a win-win.”
Cover photo by Tim Gaffney
Labatt USA debuted limited edition cans for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”