EAGLE RIVER, Wis. -- It was about three weeks before the start of the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships, and Kristin Heffern was one of only two players on her pond hockey team.
“We had a death; one of my player’s mom went into hospice; we had a divorce, two of the girls were partners and they won’t play with each other anymore; and then dollars, one girl ran out of money,” Heffern said.
It wasn’t looking promising for the Jamaican Official Ice National Team.
But Heffern — who had played in seven of the first eight Pond Hockey Championships — wasn’t going to miss what she dubs the best weekend each year. Plus, she had already invested $3,000 in down payments to make sure she would be in Eagle River, Wis., in early February.
Heffern needed to get five new players to fill out her roster. The San Tan Valley, Ariz., resident started using social media outlets in the hope of attracting interested players. She posted on hockey message boards in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and North Dakota, contacted rinks in the Midwest and also got in touch with Wisconsin-area teams.
“I just said, ‘Hey, we need five women over 35. I don’t care if they can skate, but hopefully they’ve played hockey,’” Heffern said.
Heffern’s perseverance paid off. She got three women from Michigan and one from St. Louis who were interested in playing. A fifth player got sick before the tournament and wasn’t able to travel to the championships.
Jabez Waalkes got a text from a fellow Michigan friend asking if she’d like to play. Waalkes had played in the Pond Hockey Championships before and loved her experience.
“I normally come up here with a different team, but I wasn’t able to this year,” Waalkes said. “At the last minute I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ I don’t know anyone on the team. I jumped in the car from Holland, Mich., met some girls in Kalamazoo, Mich., rode eight hours with two strangers. I met the rest of the strangers and we partied.”
The team members didn’t feel it was weird competing with women they’d met just hours earlier.
“I showed up in this country by myself, so to come up to pond hockey, where I know about 50 or so other people, it’s not weird,” said Waalkes, who is originally from Melbourne, Australia.
“We got in the car and we were immediately friends,” Heffern said. “We drove around, drank a few beers, came down and looked at the pond and it’s been a good time ever since.”
The Jamaican National Team, whose ages ranged from 35 to 55, competed in the Women’s Bronze 35+ Division in Eagle River and shocked everyone, including themselves, with their success. The women finished runner-up in their division, going 4-1 in the tournament. The Jamaican National Team outscored its opponents 44-25 in the first four games before losing 12-1 to the Rotten Apples in the title match.
“I figured coming in that if you put seven girls together that didn’t know each other it would have to be fun,” said Waalkes, who plays in four hockey leagues, one women’s league, co-ed and two men’s leagues, in Michigan. “If you were that anal and that scared, you wouldn’t accept the invitation.”
The Jamaican National Team — which got its name as an ode to Jamaica possibly having a men’s hockey team compete in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games — kept it loose on and off the ice all tournament. Team members wore dreadlock wigs over their helmets and sported jerseys with Jamaica’s colors green, yellow and black, along with a picture of Bob Marley on the front.
There weren’t a lot of expectations coming into the tournament from the members of the Jamaican National Team. Since they don’t know each other or each other’s tendencies on the ice, it was trial-and-error process the first couple of games.
“It’s hockey and so if people have a hockey sense, you know what to do. It’s not brain surgery,” said Heffern, who is a USA Hockey Level 5 coach and Level 2 referee. “Get out there with your stick and have some fun. Try to create a few goals and stop some pucks — it’s a good time.”
There has already been some talk amongst the team members about reuniting next year at the pond hockey championships.
“You play with the people you brought to the dance,” Heffern said. “If these six want to come back, I’m staying with these six, they’re here. They get first right of refusal.
“We did really well. We may never break up.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
The routine for most adult hockey players on days during which they don’t have games might go something like this: early alarm clock; get yourself to work and possibly get kids ready for school; work a full day; come home and eat dinner; take care of household tasks; plop down in front of the television by around 8 p.m., exhausted from the day and ready to sleep within a couple of hours.
As such, the routine on days with games can throw a major curveball into that schedule – particularly when you factor in the possibility of late start times to accommodate limited ice time.
As an example, games in Dallas’ adult hockey program, an offshoot of the NHL’s Stars, generally start between 9:30 and 10:45 p.m. on weekdays. They can start as late as 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, says Keith Andresen, who helps run the leagues.
That’s not uncommon across the country, and those late-night games bring about some unique challenges when it comes to being mentally and physically prepared to play. Here are some tips on how to not only survive but also thrive on the ice even as the clock strikes midnight.
One of the biggest challenges is making sure you have the right amount of fuel, as a player, to make it through a hockey game at a time when you might often be comfortably sleeping.
Sean Cromarty, a former NCAA Division I player at Colorado College and currently both the owner of Competitive Advantage Training and the coach of a junior team, said he advises players of all ages to consider bringing small portable meals to the rink.
He said that something like a six-pack fitness backpack, designed to fit six small meals, such as protein shakes and sandwiches, can be a great tool to stay fueled on gameday. If that sounds excessive, at least consider the time you’re eating your big meal of the night. Eating four hours before the game, while adding an energy snack leading up to game time, is a good guideline.
Postgame, Cromarty offered advice about protein shakes. If that’s your recovery meal of choice – with or without a postgame beer or two – he suggests having a shake that uses casein protein instead of whey protein.
“It absorbs in your body slower than whey protein,” Cromarty says. “Even if you use whey during the day, it’s good to use casein at night because it’s better as you sleep.”
Warm-up Exercises Are Key
A good warmup is important no matter when your game begins, but it’s particularly important when your body is about to be pushed at times when it might normally be at rest – particularly if much of your day is spent at a sedentary activity like deskwork.
“It’s really about developing a consistent routine,” Cromarty says. “It doesn’t have to be really detail-oriented, just something where your body knows, ‘This is what I do before I play.’”
Cromarty suggests stretching and working with a foam roller before putting gear on. Adding in some light hand-eye coordination work – something as simple as kicking around a soccer ball or working on some quick stickhandling drills with a weighted ball – can also help.
Get Your Head in the Game
The real grind of a late-night start is mental. While late night adult hockey isn’t quite the pressure cooker that NCAA hockey was when Cromarty was in college, some of the same rules apply.
“If you’re a little more mentally engaged than the guy next to you, you’re already winning,” Cromarty says.
That means doing the mind work necessary to normalize an activity such as playing hockey late at night that really isn’t normal for your body.
“Visualize the rink. Visualize the time of day, how the game is going to go,” Cromarty says. “The more you mentally rehearse it, the more it’s second nature and you can react and let your natural athleticism take over.”
The consequences of not being mentally prepared to play that late can be as simple as poor play, but the effects can be even more troubling than just letting in a goal.
“You’re potentially more prone to injury if you’re more mentally tired,” Cromarty says.
Nobody wants that. Few people want 11:30 p.m. ice time, either, but at the end of the day, hockey is hockey – and we want to play.