Brian Hogan and his team The Puck Monkeys ,lace up for their 35+ Shinny division game with the Reggie Dunlop team on day one of the New England Pond Hockey Classic on Lake Waukewan Friday.
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — The New England Pond Hockey Classic has come to be a highly anticipated event for an increasing number of people. This year, 1,800 players, on 260 teams, have been planning for months to travel to Meredith and take part in the weekend of a winter sport played in its purest form – with a handful of friends on a naturally-occurring sheet of ice, such as Meredith Bay of Lake Winnipesaukee. But, what when that sheet of ice doesn't form? That's when Scott Crowder, founder and organizer of the event, said he realizes how perfect a town like Meredith is for the event, because it has a backup lake less than a mile away, and even with the mild winter of 2015-2016, there's plenty of ice there for a hockey tournament.
"It's in pretty good shape," Crowder said of the ice on Waukewan, which, despite the warm days this week, has continued to grow when he checks it each day. As of Wednesday, he said the ice ranged in thickness from 9 inches in some places to more than 11 in others, enough for him to feel confident in inviting his players out on the 26 rinks he and his crew have prepared.
He's less enthusiastic, though, about the many spectators that typically walk out onto the ice to take in the games and the atmosphere. Crowder noted that the event is held on a public water body, and he doesn't have any control over individuals who want to walk out onto the lake. He said participants should be versed in basic ice safety, specifically New Hampshire Fish and Game's recommendation that people avoid standing close to one another in groups.
"There shouldn't be masses of people congregating at one place," Crowder said, noting that the strength and thickness of natural ice can vary due to underwater springs or currents. "The reality is, it's a natural body of water."
"When you're out there on the ice, you're out there on your own accord," he said.
The good news is that there's little reason for spectators to need to walk out onto the ice. Because Waukewan is the town's public water supply, many of the tournament's ancillary activities are restricted from the ice. Instead, the "tournament village," which includes lockers, fire pits, vendors and an entertainment venue sponsored by the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion (formerly known as Meadowbrook) will be held just across the street from the lake, on property made available by LaValley-Middleton Building Supply Company. And, with the rinks in close proximity to the sidewalk that skirts the lake's shore, Crowder said spectators will be able to watch many games from dry land.
Crowder is grateful to the construction supply firm, as well as to the town of Meredith, without whose support he said, "This definitely wouldn't be happening."
One challenge of hosting the tournament at Waukewan is a lack of parking space for nonofficial vehicles. To overcome this problem, shuttles will be constantly running from parking lots at Prescott Park, the Meredith Town Docks, Hart's Turkey Farm and Laconia Harley-Davidson. The event is also an easy walk from downtown Meredith, and Crowder expects many spectators to simply stroll in.
"At the end of the day, it's going to be an awesome scene ... There's a lot of people excited about it," Crowder said.
One of those people excited for the tournament is Robert Iafrate, a Bridgewater, Massachusetts, resident who will be joining seven other Bay Staters to create Team Looney Bin, named in honor of the Weirs watering hole that they frequent when visiting their weekend homes. The team has been taking part in the event since the first one was held in 2009, and recalls when bad conditions in 2012 pushed the tournament to Waukewan.
"It was a little bit challenging, but we know what to expect this year," Iafrate said, adding he would prefer to have the event on Meredith Bay, but that he and his teammates have a "great time each year."
"The event brings everyone to the lake, it brings everyone together," he said. "It's a good event. We've met people from the Midwest at the tournament, people from Europe, it's pretty amazing what happens that weekend."
Chris Kelly and his Team Re/Max, based in Meredith, has also been competing in the event since 2009 and has developed a multifaceted appreciation.
"Personally, as an advocate of Meredith and the economic growth of Meredith, I believe that what Scott Crowder brings to the area is a tremendous opportunity, not only for local businesses, but as well for our local community members that are looking for something different and fun to enjoy on a cold February weekend."
"My preference will be on Meredith Bay, because of the synergy between local businesses and the event. Having said that, I believe that we are blessed to have Lake Waukewan as a backup," said Kelly.
Tyler Markley, and his six teammates on "Chancellors of Dangleslavia," are returning for only their second year, but it sounds like they're already die-hard fans of the tournament. Markley, who lives in Boston but grew up in Center Harbor, said his teammates live all over New England. They're all college buddies from their days at the University of New Hampshire, where they would shovel a small rink on a river that ran behind their apartment building. Thanks to the tournament, they have a reason to get together for a winter weekend.
"It's an obligation that forces us all to get together," he said. "I enjoy it. All my best friends getting to play a game we've been playing all our lives, in what I consider to be the most beautiful place in the world. It's almost euphoric, just passing the puck back and forth with friends.
"The guys do a great job putting it on," he added. "Everyone's there to have a great time. It's a top-notch event."
The Lady Jeffs team, made up of Amherst College Alumni, go head to head with the Red Hot Chili Puckers in the women’s division. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Remember there is absolutely no on-site parking at Lake Waukewan. Please be respectful of the neighborhood and private residences in the surrounding area.
Event Lots/Shuttle Pick Up Locations
- Hart's Turkey Farm
- Laconia Harley Davidson
- Meredith Public Docks (Downtown)
- Prescott Park (No Sunday Service)
Shuttles will run from 6:45 am to 5:30 pm on Friday and Saturday and 7:30 am to 3:00 pm on Sunday.
Event lots and shuttles will transport spectators down to the event however Pond Hockey Classic participants will have priority to ensure all players arrive on-site in time for their scheduled games.
Schedule of Events for the NEPHC
Saturday, Feb. 6
7 a.m. - Player Shuttles start from Laconia Harley Davidson/Hart's Turkey Farm/Prescott Park & Meredith Town Docks Downtown
7 a.m. - Locker room tents open
8 a.m. to 4:35 p.m. - Games
10 a.m. - Common Man concession/Labatt Blue Zone/Pure Hockey merchandise booth/Bank of NH Pavilion Stage with live music open in PHC Tournament Village
10:30 a.m. - Red Bull Wings team on site
1 p.m. - On-site parking at Middleton Building Supply opens
5 p.m. - Common Man concession/Labatt Blue Zone/Pure Hockey merchandise booth/Bank of NH Pavilion stage with live music close in PHC Tournament Village
4:45 p.m. - Shuttles stop to Laconia Harley Davidson/Hart's Turkey Farm/Prescott Park & Meredith Town Docks downtown
8 p.m. - Playoff brackets announced - online
Sunday, Feb. 7
7:30 a.m. - Shuttles start from event lots at Hart's Turkey Farm/Laconia Harley Davidson
8 a.m. - Player locker room tents open
10:30 a.m. - Pure Hockey merchandise booth open in PHC Tournament Village
9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. - Playoff games
2 p.m. - Championship games
2:45 p.m. - Award ceremony
3 p.m. - PHC Tournament Village close
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