Published DateMEREDITH — Scott Crowder, the hockey player turned entrepreneur who founded the New England Pond Hockey Classic, has had unique challenges each year of the event. Now in its fourth go-around, he's wrestling with the problem he had hoped to have: serving the hundreds of hockey fans who look forward to the event next year, without losing the fun, casual atmosphere that has turned the tournament into one of the region's premiere winter events. This years classic starts on Friday morning and continues through Sunday afternoon. Twenty-one rinks have been created at the top of Meredith Bay.
The first year of the Pond Hockey Classic, Crowder's task was to tap into the local hockey culture and attract players who would want to take part in the three-day, outdoor hockey tournament. In his second year, Crowder and his crew had to deal with several inches of slush on top of their Meredith Bay rinks. Last year, the ice didn't form quickly enough on Lake Winnipesaukee, so his company had to develop an alternative location on nearby Lake Waukewan.
He and his crew must have done a good job last year, despite the location hurdle. Most of the teams that participated in last year's tournament wasted very little time in registering for the 2013 event. Crowder said many age divisions were sold out within four hours of registration opening, and the rest filled up shortly thereafter. That's even with Crowder expanding the tournament to 200 teams, up from 175, and 1,400 total players. Many of those players will travel from outside of the region for three days of hockey, filling local hotels, rental properties and restaurants during their stay.
What attracts the hockey players to the event is the opportunity to play the sport in an outdoor setting, with mountains and Meredith village as a backdrop and with the bubbles, cracks and undulations inherent to a natural ice playing surface. What's kept them coming back, hopes Crowder, is the experience that he labors to provide.
"I think it's something good, from an event manager perspective, that people are returning," he said. Now that the event is in its fourth year, he expects that players are drawn back because of team friendships that have developed and because they've grown enamored of the charms of Meredith and surrounding towns. However, Crowder also thinks the continued success will depend on the qualities of the event itself. Namely, if it will continue to put a smile on every player that shows up.
He called it, "Keeping it true, so we can host it properly."
That philosophy of management has included capping the registration numbers at levels that both he, Meredith Bay and the surrounding community can reasonably accommodate. It has also meant pursuing partnerships with sponsors that will bring more to the event than a banner flying overhead. For example, on Thursday night, players who have just checked in can attend the welcome party thrown by Labatt Blue; meanwhile Bauer will be leading a skills competition.
"It's a weekend away to have some fun," said Crowder, adding that his goal is to keep it that way.
Fortunately, he seems to have Mother Nature on his side, at least this year. An extended cold snap earlier this month produced ice at least a foot thick across Meredith Bay, thick enough for his crews to use trucks to clear the rinks. Although meteorologists predict an unusually warm day today, the extended forecast calls for perfect hockey weather through the tournament.
Crowder has also been encouraged by the partnership of community members, including the impromptu village of ice fishermen who have inhabited Meredith Bay each winter for decades. Instead of seeing the hockey tournament as encroaching on their territory, they've welcomed the spectacle and refrained from drilling holes in the middle of the rinks – at least until the tournament is over. "The fishermen have been amazing," Crowder reported.
Crowder has one final concern in the days leading up to the event. Due to the warm weather today, the ice surface will be soft and mushy. Should anyone try to skate, or even walk across the rinks, the surface could be ruined. So, he's asking members of the public to stay off the rinks until the tournament begins. There will be areas reserved for public skating during the event, he added.
For more information about the event, visit www.pondhockeyclassic.com.
CAPTION for POWER BROOM in AA:
Christian Riel uses a power broom to clear the surface of one of 21 rinks created on the surface of Meredith Bay, which will host the 4th Annual New England Pond Hockey Classic beginning Friday. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)