In its first year under the direction of TST Media, the Championships concluded on Sunday, with the sixth chapter of the annual, now-storied event viewed as a continued success.
"It's gone surprisingly smooth," co-commissioner Justin Kaufenberg said through a blissful daze, two hours before the event's final title game. "There are 10 different things happening here behind-the-scenes at any given moment. A few minor fires, but all things considered it's been pretty smooth."
Slideshow: U.S. Pond Hockey Championships.
For the third-consecutive day, huddled masses gathered amidst bone-piecing temps on Lake Nokomis to watch and the play the sport in all its purity. Organizers estimate that '11 attendance numbers (not formally charted) were well on par with past years. Concession boothsmen for Joe Senser's remarked that day No. 2 of the event was the biggest Saturday they've seen in the tournament's history.
Between the bundled spectators and the sportsmanship of the skaters, a tangible sense of community and brotherhood is born above the 20-inch sheet of frozen ice. Among the participants, the competitive nature burns with a varying degree of flames.
"It's the beer. Beer and low expectations," player Jen Sorensen said of her team's run to the women's title game. Sorensen and her The Fighting Weasels teammates played together at The University of St. Thomas, and now regrouped from all over the country to play in the event.
"The last couple of years we really wanted to win and we got killed," said fellow Weasel, Rachel Reinhardt, who sat beside Sorensen, drinking a Coors Light in the warming tent. "I really think any of the women's teams can beat any other team on any given day. We've all played together for years. . . it's just a different game on the pond."
After reaching the title game, The Fighting Weasels would suffer their lone defeat of the event, falling 10-5 to Montreal Exchange.
As the last-teams-standing on championship Sunday battled toward the coveted Golden Shovel, however, the intensity burned with added volume. To wit, take a look at the latter half of the video herein, where the defending Open Division (featuring the top players) champs Wright Homes Almost 40 (in orange) take on Kip's Pub in a quarterfinal matchup.
Standing in a warming tent filled with more unkempt beards than a Randall Wallace film, Kaufenberg took a moment to reflect on the soon-to-conclude tournament.
"The ice has probably been the biggest challenge. Dealing with losing 35 degrees in 12 hours on Friday night -- that was a challenge," the co-commissioner said. "We had some cracks opening up that a guy could stick a leg in. Friday ice was dicey. But you do all you can with it and we tried to fill the cracks the best we could. At the end of the day most of the guys understand that's pond hockey. Some goofy bounces and you play through it."