'This is old-school hockey'
Kevin Lafortune didn't let a mishap that left him with a black eye diminish his enjoyment of the fifth annual Pond Hockey Festival on the Rock.
“I collided with another player,” he said, while taking a break to speak to Northern Life Feb. 3, in between games with the two teams he was playing on.
“We were both racing for the ball. His helmet caught me in the eyebrow and cut me. It's better than a stick. A stick is a lot more dangerous.”
But Lafortune, who competed for the Walden Blues and DST Engineering during the event, wasn't complaining. “Injuries are part of hockey,” he said, adding that he thinks the festival is “a great time.”
Lafortune was just one of 1,000 players from 98 teams who laced up their skates and played hockey on Ramsey Lake Feb. 1-3.
No matter the player's age or skill, there's a category for every team that wants to participate, including pee wee, bantam, midget, college/university, family, competitive, recreational, ladies, masters and corporate.
The games are played on multiple small ice rinks created on the lake, close to Science North. The players wear skates, but use a tennis ball in place of a puck.
The event also featured ice fishing, curling, a snowshoe hike and hot air balloon rides. Proceeds from this year's event are going to Pennies for Pediatrics, Warmhearts Palliative Caregivers Sudbury-Manitoulin and Volunteer Sudbury.
Festival chair Barb Nott said the pond hockey festival, which has grown each year of its existence, has a nostalgic appeal.
“I think it's just the fact of coming outside in the wintertime and being able to go back to the roots of playing hockey on ice, where we started as young kids.”
This year's wild weather has presented some challenges for those preparing the natural ice surfaces used for the festival, Nott said.
“Three weeks ago, when we had that real mild spell, we were down to five inches (of ice). We had to have at least 12 inches on the ice for this to go. Then it got really cold. We have about 18 to 20 inches now.”
The freezing rain followed by snow last week also required some quick action, Nott said. “They had to get the snow off before it froze, because otherwise it would have been slush.”
There was no threat to the ice during the actual festival weekend, though, when it was kept frozen solid by temperatures that dipped below -20 C at times.
For the last three years, former NOHA player Christian Bonin has organized a group of his friends to play in the pond hockey festival. They've dubbed their team the Pucking Beauties.
“It gets the guys together, and it's good fun,” he said.
Christian's father, Perry Bonin, was there to cheer on his son. “I'm not too sure about the team name, but they're doing OK,” he said, laughing.
Perry said the pond hockey festival reminds him of his childhood, when he often played hockey on outdoor rinks. “This is old-school hockey,” he said. “It's fun.”
Brian Hainsworth was enlisted as the goalie for DST Engineering by his boss, whose wife works for the company.
When asked if the ball had gotten to the back of his net during the festival, he admitted it had. “But we'll leave it at that,” Hainsworth said.
The event is a lot of fun, he said. “I enjoyed myself, and I think everybody else did too,” Hainsworth said. “It's cold, but it's fun.”