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Pond hockey returns for 10th year

FAIRMONT — This weekend will mark the 10th annual Southern Minnesota Pond Hockey Championship in Fairmont. The event, held on Sisseton Lake by the Marina Lodge at 501 Lake Ave., will feature events for non-skaters as well as the traditional hockey games.

Ian Bents and Kelly Artz, members of the event committee, said new activities were added to allow more people to enjoy the fun.

“It started out as a pond hockey tournament. That’s what it’s always been, but now we’re trying to find ways to diversify it to bring more people in,” Bents said. “We’re going to have broom ball. We’re going to have curling. We’re also going to have a beanbag tournament on the ice.”

“We’re even doing a 5K run on Sunday,” Artz said. “We’re trying to tie it all together. People enjoy coming out and watching kids skate. It kind of has a winter festival feel so we decided, as a group, to offer more things for people that don’t play hockey, like the curling and broom ball and beanbags.”

To accommodate the added activities and, hopefully, increased attendance, two additional rinks have been added on the ice, bringing the total to seven. An additional heated tent also has been added to offer expanded seating for those who want to have something to eat or just a cup of coffee.

The weekend celebration kicks off with a skate under the lights from 6-9 p.m. Friday. Two of the rinks will be lit with hundreds of small white lights to create a magical atmosphere for people of all ages. A DJ will provide music, and skates will be available to rent.

Hockey action begins at 9 a.m. Saturday and continues into the night under the lights. Games will feature skaters from preschoolers to those deeply into adulthood.

A bonspiel, or curling tournament, starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, and the bean bag tournament starts at 11 a.m.

The “Frozen 5K” starts at 1 p.m. Sunday, with the route determined that morning. If there is traction on the lake, the race will be run on the ice. If not, the route will run around the lake via the bike trail.

More information about the events is available on the Facebook page “Southern Minnesota Pond Hockey Championship.”

Social media sites like Facebook have allowed the committee to reach thousands of people interested in attending or participating in the pond hockey weekend events. Artz noted that the curling event post has been viewed by 6,600 with about 200 saying they are interested in attending or participating. The Frozen 5K event was viewed by 4,600 people with 88 interested.

“This is all in the last week. That just blows me away,” Artz said.

While the event has moved from Hall Lake and even indoors during warmer winters, it has found a home on the frozen surface of Sisseton Lake by the Marina Lodge. Bents said the ice on Hall lake was quite variable in thickness, and the site was exposed to the wind.

While investigating the possibility of a more desirable site, committee members spoke with Scott Unke, owner of the Marina Lodge.

“He was very gracious and willing to sponsor the event. He was willing to jump right in,” Bents said.

“And we have much better ice there,” Artz said.

“We drilled 16 holes on the site, and the ice is by far more consistent than it was on Hall Lake,” he said. “We’ve got a terrific 10 to 12 inches of ice out there.”

The move also eliminated an uncomfortable situation caused by numerous vehicles parking on the ice near the tournament activity.

“When we were on Hall Lake one year, we must have had 100-plus cars out on the ice,” Artz said. “Not many, if any, will drive out on the ice in that part of Sisseton. Plus we just felt this was a much better spot and more protected from the wind.”

Bents and Artz offered high praise for the numerous volunteers who help throughout the tournament, from set up to tear down. They specifically mentioned the management and employees of Beemer Companies, Bettin Trucking, Olson Rental and C & B Operations who show up when the work needs to be done.

“This is a true community event,” Bents said.

“And nobody’s getting paid,” Artz said. “Everybody volunteers their time, in the worst of conditions. Last year, it was 20 below and snowing about an inch an hour, and we had more people than I’ve ever seen doing whatever they could to help out. There must have been 30 people out there blowing snow off the rinks. That was pretty cool.”

The idea for a pond hockey tournament on Fairmont’s frozen lakes stemmed from a tournament on Lake Nokomis.

“It was just a group of guys that got together, inspired by that pond hockey tournament we saw. We thought we’d try to do one in Fairmont, but not to that large scale,” Artz said. “I’m not sure how we landed into making this an annual event. We wanted to do this just for fun.”

“There was about 10 of us, just talking and brainstorming,” Bents said, adding that some members the core group on the committee have moved on to other interests over the years. “Now we are bringing in others from the community to keep this thing thriving, vibrant and growing.”

“Our goal is to get it to where this is a winter festival weekend,” Artz said. “We’re still missing the snowmobile crowd. We’re missing the ice fishing crowd, cross country skiing, snowshoeing. We’re asking for more community involvement and support so they can become a part of it too. We’ve already got the heated tents. We’ve already got the location. We’ve already got solid attendance.

“The winter’s long so have fun. This is a break in the winter. It gives us all a little bit of relief, and spring will be here soon.”

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