No matter what unexpected Minnesota weather is in store next month, Lake Minnetonka will play host to a pond hockey tournament for the fifth year.
Over the next month, organizers of the North American Pond Hockey Championship will be closely watching the weather and ice on massive Minnetonka after a couple of years of warm weather altering the tournament.
“That’s a part of what makes pond hockey special — we just embrace the winter,” said J. Lindsay, a tournament organizer. “We don’t whine about it, we just play.”
This year’s events take place from Jan. 19-22 in Excelsior next to Maynard’s Restaurant and will raise money for charities.
Last year, organizers had to scrap the hockey games because warm weather made for unsafe ice, though a fundraiser and new outdoor beanbag tournament still raised $139,000 — a record amount for the event. In the tournament’s second year, unseasonably warm weather and rain also turned 11 hockey rinks into slush and standing water on Excelsior Bay.
Now, Lindsay said organizers are optimistic that, over the next month, temperatures will dip and make for good conditions for this year’s event.
On Friday, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) warned that ice on Minnesota lakes and rivers is quickly thawing, creating dangerous conditions for anglers, snowmobilers, skiers and others. Conservation officers across the state are reporting vehicles, snowmobiles and ATVs going through the ice on lakes where ice isn’t consistently thick.
“No ice should ever be considered 100 percent safe,” DNR Lt. Lisa Kruse said in a statement, adding that people should check ice thickness every 150 feet.
No matter what, Excelsior will still hold the Lake Minnetonka event in January. Besides the hockey tournament, organizers have expanded this year’s event to include the beanbag tournament, three benefit concerts and a 5K running race. The event is organized and operated by the nonprofit DWB Memorial Foundation, and tournament proceeds will benefit the ALS Association MN/ND/SD Chapter.
“It’s become a winter happening,” Lindsay said, adding that the other events draw people who don’t play hockey but still want to participate. “It’s just a great community event.”
The event draws hundreds of people to Excelsior, which like its lake counterpart, Wayzata, has tried to draw more winter events instead of relying on popular summer tourism that can inundate the small lake suburbs.
Pond hockey weekends have sprung up in more than 50 communities in several states during the past few years, following the lead of Canada, where they’ve long been a cultural mainstay. The U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, held by a separate organization, will take place Jan. 26-29 on Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis.