The guys from X-Large started a new tradition in 2012.
That was when they competed in their first Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships in Eagle River, Wisconsin. The team has now played in five of the last six years, missing only one due to the event filling up so quickly.
X-Large has never advanced to the playoffs, but that will never deter them from making the trip up north each year.
“We don’t let it get us down,” team captain Harry Channon said. “It gives us more incentive to come back the next year to win.”
The team went 0-3 in the Novice Division this past February. In 2015, when the tournament was held at the Eagle River Derby Track instead of Dollar Lake, X-Large played its best and went 2-1. However, the playoffs eluded them.
The most important thing for the players is getting a chance to see each other and play some hockey with old friends.
“We don’t get together that often, so it’s a good way to bring everybody together, have fun on the pond,” Channon said. “We grew up playing on the pond and some our guys don’t have youth hockey experience, but they just have pond hockey experience. It’s just a way for us to get together and play some hockey and enjoy each other.”
The majority of the guys grew up together in Elgin, Illinois. Five of the players still live around Chicago and the other two call Manhattan, New York home.
“It’s a good time for us as individuals to kind of come together for a week to have some fun, talk about the past, play a game and just hang out really,” said team member Bob Mehelich, who has been buddies with Channon since seventh grade.
“We talk about our families, we talk about our work,” Channon said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Five of the seven players have competed in the tournament five times, so they bring a lot of experience to the table. A lot of the guys also compete in adult leagues around Chicago.
“This is a little different, the way the ice is not the smooth ice, so it kind of equalizes a lot of players,” Channon said. “Each game is pretty competitive and it’s fun.”
For Mehelich, the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships is the only time he breaks out his skates each year.
“I wish I could make time to play more often, but this kind of what I got,” Mehelich said. “We go for it and have a good time. We probably could stand to play more often. We’ve got a couple guys that play in leagues throughout the year, but it’s nothing that I would say is as competitive as this.”
Over the years, X-Large has played a number of divisions in the pond hockey championship, including Bronze 30+ and Intermediate 30+. But recently, the guys have found a home in the Novice Division.
“Novice is still very good,” Channon said. “You think of Novice and beginners, but there’s still just really good hockey players.”
Most of the players on X-Large are in their 40s with one player in his late 30s. The guys would like to jump up to a 40+ division when the time comes.
Having the same guys come back to pond hockey every year has helped the team build great camaraderie.
“We’ve got everything down to a T, expect the winning part, unfortunately,” Channon said.
X-Large can’t wait until next February to lace up their skates and get back on the frozen ice in northern Wisconsin.
“Everyone has families, kids, so everybody looks forward to this time,” Channon said. “We always mark it off and we’ve always got our cabin for next year and book it now. We plan on being here again.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.