The rain may fall, but winter will be on for those who want it.
The weekend’s balmy January temperatures aren’t expected to put a damper on the already-delayed pond hockey tournament that kicks off Friday on Lake Nokomis or the St. Paul Winter Carnival that goes through Feb. 7.
The only hitch is that the carnival ice carving contest is being delayed in hopes of lower temperatures. Meanwhile, snow-making machines have been running for the past two weeks for a snowslide and snow sculpting contest. And slush or no slush, the game is on for the thousands of those playing and watching the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis.
“At the end of the day, it’s pond hockey. That’s just what it is,” said Jim Dahline, tournament spokesman. “You’re going to get some cracks. You’re going to get a little bit of slush. If it snows, we’ll get snow. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t make it any less fun.”
Following social media posts in the days before the tournament, Dahline said it’s obvious the hockey players are eager to be on pond ice. “A little bit of slush isn’t going to break their spirit.”
Freezing rain and sleet may accompany temperatures in the mid-30s Friday. And as temperatures nudge 40 degrees on Saturday, rain and sleet may fall by evening.
The upside is that the mild weather is likely to draw more spectators to the ice and into the parks. Dahline expects more than the 10,000 to 15,000 spectators at the 11th annual pond hockey tournament. “Frankly, so many people have missed out on their winter activities with things being canceled,” he said. “This is an event that people look forward to every year. But the fact that people haven’t been able to get out and do their winter activities, it’s going to be bigger.”
Last weekend, thin ice on Lake Minnetonka forced organizers of the North American Pond Hockey Championship to host a fundraising event that included beanbag contests instead of hockey.
Dahline said the ice on Nokomis is more than a foot thick, accommodating 25 rinks for more than 225 teams and 1,800 players from 40 states. The opening ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday, with the first puck dropped at 8:50 a.m., Dahline said. The tournament continues through Sunday.
Two Zamboni machines will run throughout the tournament to remove any slush, Dahline said.
Over in St. Paul, Tony Mahmood, who oversees the Winter Carnival’s snow park at the state fairgrounds, has been making snow to make up for this winter’s deficit. The 30-foot high, 117-foot long slide is ready to go for Saturday’s activities and the snow sculpture contest will begin Friday morning with judging on Sunday.
But the ice carving contest in Rice Park will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday instead of Thursday as temperatures begin to slide downward, said Rosanne Bump, president and CEO of the carnival and its parent group, the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation. Before then, carnival goers can visit a few event sponsored ice sculptures, the Palace of the Winds constructed out of 420 blocks of ice and an ice bar in Rice Park.
The larger ice creations should withstand the warmer temperatures, she said.