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
Adult hockey not only promotes a healthy and active lifestyle, it requires it. As adults get older, they increasingly need to emphasize regular exercise and a nutritious diet. There’s no easy way to go about it—but there is a fun, challenging and rewarding option that sticks with you for life:
That’s right. Hockey is part of the perfect prescription for an adults’ health regiment. Just ask Olympian and former NHL player Steve Jensen.
“Physical fitness is something we should all be thinking about as we get older,” says Jensen, a longtime certified USA Hockey coach/official. “There’s no better activity than hockey to stay in shape.”
Dr. Michael Stuart, chief medical officer for USA Hockey, says the positives of playing hockey are contagious.
“Participation in ice hockey provides all the benefits of exercise while building friendships and ensuring a fun time,” says Stuart, who is also the vice-chair of Orthopedic Surgery and the co-director of the Sports Medicine Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Dr. Stuart and colleague Dr. Edward Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center sketch out specific benefits for hockey players:
“Playing adult hockey is a great way to feel better, gain health benefits and have fun,” says Stuart, who also emphasizes maintaining a balanced diet. As for safety concerns, he adds: “The risk of injury is small in no-check, adult hockey games, but players should wear high-quality, well-fitting equipment, including a helmet and facial protection.”
The Minnesota-based Adult Hockey Association is starting to see employers embrace hockey as a health and performance benefit for its workforce. Some businesses are beginning to subsidize hockey registration fees for employees because they feel the activity fits the policy of their wellness programs.
“It’s not a lot, but we’re starting to see more and more trickle in,” says Dave Swenson, the AHA’s secretary treasurer who also serves on USA Hockey’s Adult Council and Minnesota Hockey’s Board of Directors.
Swenson wants this trend to continue growing, not just to see the number of players rise, but to reward players for committing to a healthy lifestyle.
“I’m hoping employers think about that a little more,” Swenson adds. “It’s not just softball leagues anymore. There are recreational hockey opportunities out there for adults.”
Hilary McNeish, a longtime player, ambassador, and current executive director of the Women’s Association of Colorado Hockey, says she sees the positive results in women’s hockey every day.
“There are so many benefits,” says McNeish, “but the quote I hear most from ladies is: ‘It’s like working out a lot, but it’s so fun, it doesn’t feel like working out!’”
Aside from the physical health gains, there’s also a mental side to the story that’s special to hockey players.
“There are so many positive experiences that come with it,” adds McNeish. “Being able to play a sport that so many deem difficult is also great for the mind and wonderful for your personal attitude.
“It’s great to see the looks from people when you can say, ‘I play hockey’”