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Mandy Branhattans Hope For More on the Pond

06/01/2017, 3:00pm MDT
By Greg Bates

Pond hockey national championships a yearly tradition for adult team

After years and years of futility, the guys from Mandy Branhattans had a reason to celebrate this year.

This past February, the team advanced to the playoffs for the first time in their nine years of playing in the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Mandy Branhattans fell just a couple goals short of winning the Bronze 21+ Division, placing runner-up to KANE88 by a 2-1 score in the championship game.

The day leading up to the championship, the guys were thrilled to be one of four teams left out of the 24 in the division with a shot to win the title.

“It’s fun,” Mandy Branhattans team member Rob Alward said. “It’s nice to actually play on Saturday afternoon.”

Alward has been a part of eight of the nine tournaments his team has played in. He knows all too well the feeling of not playing on Saturday afternoon in the semifinals and the next day in the finals.

With a couple core members unable to make the trip to Northern Wisconsin this year, the team had to find some replacements to fill the roster. In stepped Jay Wolf. Maybe he was one of the good luck charms to help Mandy Branhattans get into the playoffs.

“I think everybody’s just kind of found their position and it’s worked well,” Wolf said. “I’ve been back in the net most of the time and we’ve got guys who can score. It’s going well; it’s flowing well. Everybody’s clicking.”

The guys might have surprised themselves by how well they did in the tournament.

“It wasn’t the intentions to win, but we’ve played well and we’ve done well, so you want to keep playing well,” Wolf said. “Every game we go out and we’re like, ‘Oh, we’ll just play. We’ll just have a good time.’ Then the competitiveness comes back and you want to win.”

This marked the last year the team will play in the Bronze 21+ Division. In 2018, the guys, who range in age from 29-37, plan to compete in Bronze 30+.

Mandy Branhattans is a group of guys who either played hockey together in high school, are relatives via marriage or simply just friends. The team members now live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota area and around Madison, Wisconsin.

Alward grew up in Eagle River and played at the local high school, Northland Pines. He loves coming back to the area every year.

“We grew up here,” said the 33-year-old Alward. “It’s a good excuse to see mom and dad and play some hockey.”

Wolf, who was raised in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, about two hours south of Eagle River, had never experienced playing in the pond hockey tournament. But when he found out there was an opening this year, he wasn’t going to say no.

“They have told me about it for a number of years and they’ve just always been full because people just have such a good time and that they haven’t had a spot,” Wolf said. “They were short this year, so they called me and asked if wanted to play. I figured I’d give it a shot.”

Wolf, 31, had heard stories from the guys about what to expect playing on the pond, but he truly couldn’t imagine what the experience would be like.

“It’s certainly a different way of playing hockey,” Wolf said. “There’s no finesse passing. You can’t make moves on people. It’s a very fundamental way of playing. It’s awesome, all the people and the weather’s beautiful.”

Wolf is sure glad he made the trip to Eagle River to have a good time with the boys.

“It’s like college again, you hang out and you’re here to play hockey and have some fun,” Wolf said. “There’s nothing else to worry about, you leave it all at home and come and play.”

Mandy Branhattans have a core group of three players who have played at the pond tournament either eight or nine years. Alward said it’s important for the team to keep a few players who return every year.

“That’s the best part about it is having the same group,” Alward said. “Some of us, this is the only time of the year we see each other. Keep the core group together, keep coming up. That’s what it’s all about.”

Wolf wants to come back and play next year, but if a couple of the core players return, he might be left in the cold. Remember though, he might have been their good luck charm on the road to the championship game.

“I think I’ll make the cut,” Wolf said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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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.”

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