EAGLE RIVER, Wis. -- Normally the only sounds you hear on the shores of Dollar Lake are the wind whistling through the pines, the call of a native bird or the occasional whine of a snowmobile off in the distance.
Those sounds are typically drowned out at this time of year by the slashing of steel skate blades carving up the ice and carbon fiber hockey sticks slapping at bouncing pucks when the Labatt Blue USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships come to the northwoods of Wisconsin.
But a more foreign sound could be heard echoing through the air when this year's event kicked off on Friday: the booming beat of dance tunes spinning off a DJ's turntable and the thumping of bean bags landing on plywood game boards inside the newly-formed Labatt Blue Zone.
In the past, teams would finish their game and retreat to the warming tents where they would sit on hay bails and drink a beer while rehashing the game before heading back to their condos or hotel rooms to continue the party.
Officials associated with Labatt created the Fun Zone to give participants another reason to enjoy their time on Dollar Lake in the company of other passionate pond hockey players.
Inside the corralled area, some played a modified version of the popular game Jenga, while others tossed bean bags at boards adorned with Labatt logos. Elsewhere, people huddled around portable heaters, enjoying a cold beverage while talking to fellow pond hockey players. Others danced to the music blasting from giant speakers.
In the back corner, Jenny Shults was locked into an intense Jenga game with someone she just met. With each strategic move, the crowd grew larger as it anxiously waited for the tower of wooden blocks to come crashing to the ice.
Shults came up from Kansas City to watch her husband play with his KC Hookers teammates in the Beginner division. Tomorrow she will be pressed into action to fill in for an injured player. For her, spending more time on site just adds to the overall experience.
"It doesn't get much better than this," she said. "This gives us another reason to stick around and enjoy this beautiful setting."
For veterans of this annual hockey pilgrimage, the addition of the Labatt Blue Zone is another example of how organizers continue to up the ante when it comes to putting on a first-class event.
"This keeps people hanging around the pond. I mean, why would you want to leave. This is so much fun," said Robin Schweitzer, who is better known around the tournament as "Poodle." She's been coming here from Chicago with her Checkahoes teammates for the past eight years, and appreciates the opportunity to meet new people who share her passion for pond hockey.
"Whoever had the idea of adding this, I'd like to buy them a beer,” she said. “This is the best addition, ever."