RANGELEY — Wrapped head-to-toe in insulated hockey gear, teams of men and women skated doggedly over the weekend in the name of tradition.

On Sunday, they also skated for the honor of having their team name on the trophy that hangs on the wall at Sarge’s Restaurant in Rangeley.

This 12th Annual New England Pond Hockey Festival has been a weekend of socializing and competition for amateur hockey players, their friends and families and spectators. The event has grown, according to organizer Linda Sikes, because word has gotten out that it is such a great time and offers intense competition.

Volunteers build up to a dozen rinks on Haley Pond, each the regulation 75 feet by 150 feet. Everyone plays on one of several seven-member teams, each with four players and three standbys. Those arriving without a team are matched with players of equal ability. There are no “ringers,” Sikes said. People have known each other for years and usually play during the rest of the year, if there are rinks available.  

“That’s not to say we don’t have some very experienced players,” she said.“We’ve had one woman who skated in the Olympics, for example, so she played on the men’s team.”

Some teams have played together for more than a generation. Others played together in high school or college, and they travel from as far as Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, California or British Columbia.

Sikes said the weekend started with a Friday welcoming gathering at the Rangeley Inn. Players met again at on Saturday to share the day’s stories and highlights. The Sunday playoffs included the Men’s Masters, Women’s Just For Fun and the Men’s Open teams.

Sikes said special appreciation goes to the members of the behind-the-scenes Slush Bucket team. Between games and after the daytime action ceases, Sikes’ son, Tiger, and his crew fill cracks and apply some heat to flash-freeze the dangerous spots that can snag and twist a skater’s ankle without warning. They also pump pond water into a tank fitted onto a custom piece of heavy equipment hauled behind a tractor. 

“It’s our little Zamboni,” she said. 

Safety always is on everyone’s minds, she said. No one is allowed to skate unless the pond has 14 inches of ice. At the beginning of February, the thickness is up to 44 inches and easily able to support vehicles, players and spectators.

The original organizers knew people and owned property in Rangeley, Sikes said.  

“They all are on leagues down country,” she said. “They play in other tournaments, and they are friends, but they don’t have the outdoor ice like we do.”

Sikes said the festival started as an idea shared by people who all played hockey on indoor rinks. They met to talk about the possibility of starting the festival in Rangeley and playing the way hockey was meant to be played–outdoors.

Sikes agreed to be the organizer, and she has been the spokesperson since the beginning.

Don Thompson was the Lady Beaverjacks mascot, stopping often to remove the furry brown head to cheer on the players.

Team names often reflect the players’ senses sense of humor: Pond Stars, Victorious Secrets, DNR, Deported Maids and the Dangleberries.

During their breaks, players from the final four teams gathered in a warm canvas tent the size of a small garage.

In the end, the Lady Beaverjacks won the Just For Fun tournament, while the Portland Hockey Club team won the Men’s Open division and the Atlantic Sportswear team won the Men’s Masters championship.

The Lady Beaverjacks and the Pond Stars teams played for glory at the 12th Annual New England Pond Hockey Festival in Rangeley.

Teams skated on Haley Pond in Rangeley on Sunday, hoping to have their team’s name on the trophy at Sarge’s Restaurant across the street.

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