Southwest Stars hit the ice

Hockey team competes in U.S. Pond Hockey Championships

The warming house smelled like hockey.

Gloves, pads and other equipment were everywhere. Players tottered in and out in their skates, some wearing NHL jerseys, others sporting flannel.

It was a big weekend for pond hockey fanatics. It was the second annual U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and more than 1,100 players brought their gear, their passion and their funk to the competition, which took place Jan. 19-21 on Lake Nokomis.

The championships drew hockey enthusiasts from throughout the nation including former NHL, Olympic and college players. More than 200 teams competed in four-on-four, no goalie competition in open, women’s, senior and rink rat divisions. The rink rat division was added this year for less experienced players.

Each team competed for a chance to have its name inscribed on the coveted golden shovel, the Stanley Cup of pond hockey. The round-robin play took place on 25 rinks. Goals were flat wooden structures each with two small holes barely large enough to accept a puck cut into the front. Competition was friendly, but fierce.

Jeff Haug, a 30-year-old commercial loan officer who lives with his wife and son in Armatage, assembled a team called the Southwest Minneapolis Stars. The team included his brother Eric Haug, 33, who is a doctor living in Linden Hills and four friends, most of them from Southwest. The Haugs and others on their team played hockey for Southwest High School and now play for fun whenever they get a chance.

The Haugs tried to sign up for the tournament last year, but were put on a waiting list and ended up as spectators. They got in early this year, but busy schedules prevented them from practicing as a team before competition. Competing in the open class, the Stars never thought the golden shovel was within their grasp.

“We’re not expecting to win,” Jeff Haug said during a partial team practice at Weber Park in Edina before the tournament. “We just want to have fun.”

With three losses and one win due to a competing team’s failure to show up, they were far from winning the championship, but they had a good time. The first game was a close 4-2 that had players panting and kneeling in the snow between shifts on the ice.

“We’re not in as good of shape as we used to be,” Jeff Haug said.

In another game, college players from the East Coast defeated the Stars 13-5.

But the Haugs aren’t discouraged and they want to play again next year. They are thinking about joining a league to keep their skills sharp.

“The amazing thing is just how popular hockey is in Minnesota that 200 teams of six people will drop everything and play hockey for a weekend,” Eric Haug said.

Last year, the Pond Hockey Championships took place on Lake Calhoun. The event was moved this year because of poor ice conditions. Claudine Galloway, spokeswoman for the tournament, said she was unsure which lake the event would be planned for next year.

For more information on the championships, go to www.uspondhockey.com.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected].