EAGLE RIVER, Wis. -- It was typical early February weekend in northern Wisconsin; all three days of the tournament: bitter cold.
Friday’s wind chill dipped to -27 degrees, marking the coldest day.
“It was super windy,” said Stacy Anderson, who plays for the MANERAQS. “It was kind of eating through every layer you had on. But it was still fun.”
“That first morning your fingers are a little numb,” Bill Ford said. “That cold kind of woke us up a little. But everyone’s out here, no frostbite and we’re all good.”
On Saturday, the low wind chill was -20 and the sun actually peaked out for a little while, making the temperature bearable. On championship Sunday, it reached a low of -18.
“The cold, everybody’s dressed for it and it doesn’t really matter,” said Bruce Torrance, plays for Delta House.
Once the players got on the ice, they mostly forgot about the temperature and concentrated on playing hockey.
“The cool down is what’s cold, once you’re all sweaty,” said Karry Reynolds of the Frozen Tows. “Being out on the ice, it’s nice.”
It was starting to look a little bleak for the Milwaukee Showponies.
Down by two goals with four minutes remaining in the title game of the Men’s Gold Division, the Showponies turned it up another notch.
“Your instincts are telling you, go, go, go,” Showponies player Jake Furey said. “The more patient you are with the puck you kind of let things open up and you get scoring opportunities.”
That’s exactly what happened.
The Showponies tallied four straight goals – Furey netted two second-half goals, including the game winner with just over two minutes left – and went on to beat the Original Wolves 7-5 in the ninth annual Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships Sunday afternoon on Dollar Lake.
“That was pretty incredible,” said Showponies’ Todd Krupa, who scored two goals in the final 2 ½ minutes of regulation. “I don’t think we were expecting that, but I know we had it in us. Bunch of show ponies is what we are.”
Last season the Showponies, who are from the Milwaukee area, lost to the Wolves 11-10 in triple overtime in the title game. The Showponies weren’t going to allow that this year.
Sunday’s championship game was tied at 2-2 at halftime before the Wolves scored the opening two goals of the second half. The Wolves went up 5-3 with about nine minutes left when the Showponies showed the grit of a championship-caliber team. The Showponies, who went 4-1 on the weekend, got an insurance goal by Krupa in the final minute to all but end the game.
“The tying goal was a lucky one,” said Krupa, who was playing in his first pond hockey national championships. “We got a lucky bounce and it just went by a guy. On the empty netter, I saw (a player) coming and I just pulled it off his stick. I felt good about that one. We needed a clincher. I missed a breakaway early in the tournament, so I needed to make that one go in.”
A little revenge is always sweet, especially with a trophy on the line.
The MANERAQS lost to the BDI Cow Pies 6-5 in pool play of the Women’s Gold Division Saturday and the two teams got to square off in the championship. This time around, it was all MANERAQS.
The girls from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area broke a scoreless game with two minutes left in the opening half by tallying two quick goals. The MANERAQS carried that momentum into the second half and netted five goals to beat BDI Cow Pies 7-0.
“It was pretty phenomenal,” said Stacy Anderson, who scored two goals for the MANERAQS. “There was no way we were going to let them score. We just wanted to make sure we could score.”
The MANERAQS – who were playing in their first pond hockey championships -- focused on defense in the championship game. The team didn’t use a goalie the first time it played the BDI Cow Pies, and that strategy backfired.
The MANERAQS made the necessary adjustments the second time around.
“We put a goalie in net and then we put a bigger emphasis on the importance of defense,” Anderson said. “The first game against them, we had a D that was playing a little high and pulled a forward back. We got our strategy down and now we’re not rookies anymore.”
For the fifth time, the team from Ford Motor Company in Detroit was able to hoist a championship trophy.
Ford went 5-0 on the weekend in the 50+ Tier 1 Division, beating the River Valley Pioneers 7-2 in the title game.
“It feels great to win,” said Bill Ford, Jr., who plays on the team and is the executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company. “It was fun to play (River Valley Pioneers) because they’re great guys and we play them every year. We finally beat them, which we were due. It was a very clean game, a tough game.”
Once the Ford team got a comfortable lead in the title game, it played solid defense. Ford allowed just 24 goals in five tournament games, including one shutout.
If there was one team at the pond hockey national championships that knew how to score, it was the Squigglies.
The guys from Chicago outscored their opponents by 76 goals in the first three games of pool play in the Intermediate 30+ Division. The Squigglies had victories of 43-1 and 28-2. That’s pretty dominant.
“We don’t want to blow anybody out, but the way the tournament is set up goal differential is a big deal, so we have to kind of run it up to get a better seed,” Squigglies player Jared Savocchi said. “A lot of undefeated teams make the playoffs and obviously the better goal differential is the tiebreaker, so we got the No. 1 seed based on our plus-76 goals.”
The Squigglies used the top seed to its advantage in the playoffs and proved it can win close games, too. After blowout victories early in the tournament, the team won by just two goals in the quarterfinals and by one goal each in the semifinals and championship game to take home the title.
Photo By Tim Gaffney
Over 330 teams entered
Registration sold out in just two days
Over 2,300 players traveled to Eagle River
19 Champions were crowned
Nearly 600 games played over three days
31 rinks were untilized - the most ever
Over 5,000 pucks were used