RANGELEY — On a gorgeous sunny Saturday in subzero wind chills, more than 200 men and women on 31 teams skirmished in the New England Pond Hockey Festival on Haley Pond.
Each team would play two 15-minute periods per game; three games apiece in the initial round-robin elimination. Then the winners in four divisions — 9 to 10 teams — advance to the finals, which start at 9 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 5.
Each team averaged seven players, of whom only four each could be on the ice during game play.
In Rink 1, the returning 2011 Masters Division winners, Atlantic Sportswear, out-finessed the Brunswick ME Fireballs, using precision passes to win 10-2.
During the ensuing break, volunteer scorer Walter Mercer of Atlanta, Ga., and ice makers Tiger Sikes and his mother, co-organizer Linda Sikes, checked in with each other to ensure everything was going well.
Prior to the festival, the Sikeses and eight other volunteers labored to grow enough ice in the frozen pond to create 10 rinks measuring 150 feet by 75 feet.
After plowing snow from the 5.5-acre venue, they flooded each rink six times using a fire hose, then added three additional sheets of ice for a smoothing effect, Linda Sikes said.
“Mother Nature gives us something different every year and now she’s certainly smiling on us today, because we were certainly dealing with some messy stuff,” she said of unseasonably warm weather and flurries.
“When we had flurries, we had to stop flooding, because it creates slush,” she said. “Cold temperatures for the last couple of days have allowed us to freeze it.”
While ski areas and snowmobilers are lamenting the lack of natural snow, that bodes well for pond hockey.
“This year, we didn’t get hit with 10 inches of snow like we did last year on Saturday night,” Sikes said.
She said players came from the New England states, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Toronto, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Mercer said players range in age from the 20s to the 60s, with men being the oldest and women the youngest.
“For some of them, this is an annual-only event, because they might not play a lot of shinny or pond hockey,” Mercer said.
In pond hockey, there aren’t any formal rules, specific positions or goaltenders. Additionally, body-checking and lifting the puck off the ice is forbidden, because players don’t wear much protective equipment.
Following opening ceremonies at 10 a.m., 18 teams competed, two to a rink in four divisions: Men’s Open, Men’s Masters, Cameron or Women’s Open, and Women Just For Fun, Linda Sikes said.
“Six years ago, we started out with one division and four rinks, and it is now four divisions and 10 rinks this year,” she said.
That means the event is providing a boost to the local economy with the infusion of 211 players and their entourages, most of whom stay for the weekend.
“It’s extremely well-received by the community,” Sikes said.
They get support from the town, its businesses and residents.
“They’re excited that this is coming to Rangeley, Maine,” she said. “It’s what I would call a contained convention, if you will, because it’s like if you and I go to Las Vegas, we stay right in the area and we do our thing and that’s what this is.”
Teams that don’t come from nearby stay in rental homes and motels and hotels. They pay $600 per team just to compete in the tournament.
“Oh, I think it’s so much fun,” bystander Melissa Gates of Rangeley said. “This is great. It’s nice to get the community together and everyone can come out.”