The Menno Flyers grew up in arenas around Woolwich and Wellesley, but this weekend they’re taking hockey back to its roots: on an outdoor rink, where the only requirements are a stick, skates, helmet and puck.
The Flyers are competing in the Canadian National Pond Hockey championships in Huntsville for the second year in a row.
Pond hockey is played four-on-four, with no goalie, and a net that is six feet wide but only 10 inches high. There are no blue lines, no offsides, no faceoff circles and few stoppages in play.
“It’s very fast-paced and there tends to be a lot of goals because there’s no goalie,” said team captain Paul Lucier. “It’s really traditional shinny rules that you would get when you throw your sticks in the middle of an old pond somewhere.”
They won’t be playing on just any old pond this weekend; they’ll be on one of 24 natural ice rinks, covering six acres of ice at Deerhurst Resort. Over the two weekends of the tournament, 288 teams will lace up their skates and take to the ice.
Lucier and his teammates are playing in the master’s recreational division, for men over 35. They’ll be coming up against teams like the Markham Slo-timers, the Grumpy Old Men from Burlington, Canadian Leftovers, and the Pot-Bellied Stallions of Toronto. The teams are competing to have their names engraved on the top prize: a wooden replica of the Stanley Cup.
“Some people take it pretty seriously, but it’s mostly for fun and we go there for a family weekend,” Lucier said.
The Menno Flyers are part of a larger group that grew up playing minor hockey together in Woolwich and now play recreational hockey. When Lucier saw the pond hockey championships on television, he thought it would be a fun thing to try.
There’s a stiff competition just to get into the championships, but once you’ve been accepted, you get invited back every year, Lucier said.
“I got very lucky last year, our team was accepted and we had such a good time with our families there, we decided to go back again this year.”