This Saturday, FBI agents, large pink bunnies, kangaroos on skates and people outfitted in yellow jumpsuits and Flintstones costumes will descend on Chadburn Lake, all in the name of the All Northern Pond Hockey Tournament.
The creative and, more often than not, outlandish costumes are par for the course and what make the popular all-day tourney so appealing, says Sunny Patch, co-ordinator for the annual Whitehorse tourney.
“There’s a team called the Montréal Fireballs and they bring an actual seat from the Montréal Forum and set it up on the ice and that’s pretty neat because the forum is essentially the birthplace of hockey, the Mecca,” says Patch. “To have a seat go from Montréal to the side of the rink at Chadburn is pretty cool.”
It was just over four years ago that the idea to have a pond hockey tournament in Whitehorse first came to life.
Emma McKennirey, Patch’s close friend, wanted to put a small tournament together. The rest is history.
“Me and my sister Zoe aren’t good at little things,” says Patch. “The first year we had 19 teams, then 31 and, last year, we had 38 registered.”
Twenty-eight teams even showed up in 2006 when the temperature dipped to a frigid minus 40.
“There are lots of people that love hockey, but can’t give the commitment to a regular team,” says Patch, of the tournament’s vast appeal. “Pond hockey is a little less intimidating and still allows people to get out and skate.”
The tournament is open to everyone, but it caters to a certain style of player, says Patch.
“It’s all about the fun. There are no scouts out there, so nobody is going to be recruited off the Chadburn ice to the big show,” she says. “We always have one or two, but they soon learn what we’re about and what we’re doing out there … the guy in the pink bunny suit is good for that, although, funny enough, his team made the final last year.”
The All Northern Pond Hockey tournament has evolved over the past four years, including a contingency plan that is now in place to deal with the fluctuating weather patterns that have, at times, caused havoc on game day.
Year one it was too warm and the ice melted.
The following year was the now infamous “freeze” year, and last year the conditions were perfect.
“There were people playing in their sweaters and it was minus 10, it was ideal,” says Patch. “If it’s too warm for the ice to freeze we will postpone it by a week and the same goes if it’s minus 35 or colder.”
With game day nearing, Patch is just finalizing last-minute details, specifically reminding team captains of the rules, including no slapshots, no goal tending and no raising your stick in the air.
“Even in celebration, no raising the stick,” she says.
The personable Patch has yet to play for the Lady Emma Cup herself. While playing would be fun, she is content with taking on the role of Lady Commissioner especially with the reward that comes with the position, she says.
“At a certain point, I usually have to get something from my truck which is usually parked at the far end of the lot,” she says. “It allows me the chance to look down on the ice and see 150 people playing hockey because I asked them to and it’s beautiful.
“And every year someone will come up to me and say, ‘Oh my God, this is so much fun … I haven’t played hockey in so long’, and that’s a wonderful thing to hear.”
Patch references Skagway’s Buckwheat Donahue and the popular “Buckwheat” ski loppet when asked how big an event she would like to see the tournament become.
“I want this to a point where it becomes an event that people plan all year for, that’s my goal.”
George Maratos is a Whitehorse-based freelance writer.