Unseasonably warm weather in the State of Hockey has forced organizers of the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships to reschedule the annual event on Lake Nokomis because they fear the ice won’t be safe for skating.
The event was scheduled for Jan. 14-17, but organizers said Tuesday that they’re pushing it back to Jan. 28-31.
“For the past month, we have been monitoring the ice conditions on Nokomis as well as forecasts for the area leading up to the event,” said the organizers of the Labatt Blue U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. “We do not believe that there will be sufficient ice for us to safely hold the event on the original date.”
At least 10 consecutive days of at-or-below freezing temperatures are needed to make ice that’s thick enough for activities. Event organizers say they need about 1 foot of ice on the lake to hold the proper equipment. On Tuesday, only 2 inches of ice had accumulated toward the shoreline, said Carson Kipfer.
“It’s definitely the lightest icing we’ve seen since the beginning of the tournament,” said Kipfer, one of three hockey fanatics whose software company, Sport Ngin, owns the event. This is the first year organizers have rescheduled due to improper conditions.
Long-term forecasts indicate the ice should be ready by the end of January, allowing organizers to keep the event within two weeks of the original tournament dates.
The group said it made the decision now in order to allow participants, who come from all over the country and even from abroad, to make alternative travel plans. In previous years, the event has drawn as many as 300 teams and 2,000 players.
“We understand that for some, this is going to be difficult,” organizers said of the estimated 650 players who will be traveling from out-of-state this year.
Registered teams that are unable to play on the new dates will have their registration and payment honored for the 2017 event.
Organizers said they would be e-mailing team captains with details.
Teams that have made reservations at the Courtyard in Bloomington by Mall of America and at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot, through the championship’s group rates have already had their reservations adjusted for the new dates, at the same rate.
Although teams have until Jan. 7 to commit one way or another, Kipfer said that so far, he’s had cancellations from only about one in 20 teams.
“They make it a priority; it’s something people definitely look forward to and it really marks the season for them,” he said of the tournament, which is nostalgic for players who learned to skate on ponds.
“It’s been a great excuse for people to get together. For a lot of people it’s a reunion every year.”
Organizers work with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to coordinate the event each year.
Mother Nature didn’t quite cooperate, said Park Board President Liz Wielinski, but “we’ll make it work; that’s what we do.”
“It really does showcase our parks in the winter,” she said.
The tournament began in 2006 under the direction of Minnesota native Fred Haberman, who attracted 120 teams from around the country to play on 25 rinks.
In the 10 years since, the event has gained national attention for its size and ability to draw college legends and former NHL players, such as Brian Bellows.
ESPN.com listed it as one of the “101 things sports fans must experience before they die.”
Dennis McGrath contributed to this report.