There’s no easy way to access Pincherry Lake in Eagle River, Wis.
That’s what makes it such a remote hockey hotspot.
John Aspenleiter’s wife’s family has the only cabin on the small lake, and Aspenleiter and his buddies make their way up from Milwaukee every winter.
To get to the lake, the guys have to jump on snowmobiles and ride about a mile and a half from the main road. Once they get to the cabin, they have one goal in mind: get the ice rink prepared.
“We spend the first day or two doing nothing but what we call being ‘iceologists’ — getting a nice rink going — and then from morning until night just playing pond hockey and just having fun,” Aspenleiter said. “It’s not just competitive adults out there; it’s bringing the kids out and getting them involved.”
The core group of guys has been coming to Pincherry Lake for about 25 years. From their fun experiences on the pond, the guys formed the Pincherry Lake Loons.
The Loons play a ton of hockey throughout the winter months. Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon is spent on the lake at Humboldt Park, the main hub for pond hockey in Milwaukee. From noon to sundown there are continuous hockey games.
“It’s a great group of people, and we all play down in Milwaukee in various leagues,” said Nick Knezevich, the newest member of the Pincherry Lake Loons, having played for four years.
The team members also play in the Riverwest Hockey League, an adult league. Knezevich is an avid player, competing in games three to four times per week.
“Everyone knows everybody from [the Riverwest Hockey League], and then they put this team together when this tournament started and started coming up here,” Knezevich said.
The tournament that Knezevich refers to is the ultimate in pond hockey: the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships. The tournament takes place only about 10 miles from the Pincherry Lake Loons’ home pond in Eagle River.
The Loons, who range in age from the early 30s to 50s, played in their sixth tournament this past February. In their first year, in 2009, the Loons finished as runners-up in their division. This year, the team went 1-2 in the Novice 21+ Division.
“We come into this tournament with a really positive attitude and we take it very light-heartedly,” Knezevich said. “We don’t take it too seriously and don’t get chippy or anything. It’s just all about having a good time.”
It’s been a tradition for the original six members of the Loons to travel to the Pond Hockey Championships. However, in 2013, founding team member Michael Follstad wasn’t able to compete in the tournament. In late 2012, Follstad was playing in a hockey game and took a seemingly harmless check from an opponent. But the hit caused Follstad to suffer a seizure as he collapsed and went through convulsions. That prompted a diagnosis that he had brain cancer, which he has been fighting ever since. Knezevich has filled in on the ice for Follstad the last two years.
The Loons dedicate all their pond hockey games to Follstad. Team members wear stickers on their helmets with a picture of Follstad and carry around a large cardboard cutout of Follstad’s head to every game.
“We think about Michael a lot and wish he was up here with us,” Aspenleiter said. “Last year it was a big shock to everybody in the hockey community back home about Michael. He’s got a lot of friends. He’s hoping to be back here next year, and he’s hoping to be on the ice again soon.”
Members of the Pincherry Lake Loons love playing in the Pond Hockey Championships. The guys have great chemistry on the ice and know each other’s style quite well after playing so much hockey together in their adult league and on Pincherry Lake.
“It’s just the camaraderie we have with each other,” Aspenleiter said. “The first year that we played in the Pond Hockey Championships, we made it all the way to the finals and we lost to the team just by a goal. It’s intense and competitive, and we just have a lot of fun doing it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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’”