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