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.
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”