MEREDITH — Scott Crowder not only runs the New England Pond Hockey Classic each year, he takes his own turn on the Meredith Bay ice as well. A former UMass skater, he plays with friends on the Winnipesaukee Whalers team that competes in the classic's open division, the toughest of seven.
"It is all about bringing people together to play some good old hockey and play outdoors," said Crowder when asked why he takes on such a task.
Devoted to promoting and expanding accessibility to the sport he grew up around in Nashua, Crowder founded the Classic five years ago and has shepherded its growth to where the just completed event featured 225 teams playing over three days on 22 improvised rinks. In addition to the Lakes Region tournament, he last year added a second tournament to his schedule on the ice of Lake Champlain, and this year is adding a third, on Flathead Lake, Montana.
A total of 42 teams started out the tournament in the open division. The Whalers began their first game on Friday facing the Young Green Guns from Boston, MA, but were "up to their A-game" and the contest ended in a draw. Later in the day the team took the ice once more facing the Bulldogs also from Boston. Their second game that day ended with a win.
After the Whalers picked up their second win, on Saturday against the Barn Burners from Metheun, MA, Crowder commented, "This is our favorite week of the year. There is nothing like taking the ice as a team and playing the sport we love. It is seeing the people all around grinning from ear to ear while enjoying some local food and local sport that makes it all worth it."
The Whalers then moved from Rink 3 to Rink 18 to face a team from Everett, MA calling itself State. The Whalers effort again produced a win, this time 18-10.
Moving on to the playoffs, the open division was narrowed down to the top 16 teams. The Whalers faced the Bauer Experience from Exeter and were eliminated by a score of 14-4. The division title was eventually claimed by Paddy's of Cambridge, MA, which earned a 2-1 win over the Ice Holes of Wakefield, MA, in the championship game.
"It was great being able to reconnect with friends from high school and college to play hockey, as well as enjoy the local food and drink in the area," said Crowder. "Watching thousands of people come together out on the ice has made it all worth it, and believe it or not, just one day after the 2014 tournament has come to an end I already have had people asking about the 2015 tournament so they can put it on their calendars."