Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” ~ Nelson Mandela

If you’ve gotten an email from me, you’ve seen this quote; I keep it in my email signature as a constant reminder as to how valuable sport is. Especially in a world and time when there is divisiveness at every turn. We need sport in our lives. It is a tie that binds us. Look in the stands at any sporting event and you will see hundreds or thousands of people who have conflicting worldviews sharing laughs, cheers, and sometimes tears, without a mention of their differences.

Everyone needs sport, which is why I love directing the Maine Pond Hockey Classic.

There is something magical about skating on a frozen pond or lake. Crisp winter air, the smell of smoke from a nearby warming fire, sounds of skates gliding across the ice, and sticks tapping, it’s hockey in the purest form. 

The sights, smells, and sounds of pond hockey are invigorating.

Traditional pond hockey is unique – keeping score is generally optional, goals are made from everything from benches to boots, and even the best skater can be stymied by a rogue crack in the ice. Combined with snow, rain, wind and whatever else Mother Nature can dish out – it’s hockey, but a long way from playing in a rink. There is something special about players coming together to play a game with few rules, no officials, battling the elements, and the score being kept is how much fun is being had, with an occasional bragging right on the line. 

This is the type of experience that brings people together.

At the Maine Pond Hockey Classic, we provide a little bit of formality, but just enough to keep everyone organized. We have 6” high boards – high enough to keep the puck from sailing away from the game, and some general rules – for safety and for those that are a little more competitive.  We use wooden box goals and have a scorekeeper to keep track of goals and let us know if anyone is getting out of hand.  While we don’t have a penalty box, I’ve given plenty of “adult time-outs” through the years.  We have several competitive divisions, but our fastest growing one is our Just for Fun Division… because [almost] everyone has to go to work on Monday. The simple fact is, there is almost no correlation between skill & enjoyment, making it almost the exact opposite of golf.  During most of the games I observe, the worst players on the ice are having just as much fun, if not more fun, than the best players on the ice.

The gameplay is just the beginning.

Between games, players huddle with spectators in the beer garden and around fit pits, laughing and telling stories about the glory days or that miracle shot that went in from the length of the rink during the last game. Even opponents that just got off the ice from a hard-fought game are now sharing a drink and finding common ties that bind them. Year after year I walk away from “pond hockey weekend” humbled by stories shared by players about how they have reconnected with friends and family, far and near, to participate in our tournament. Players that have stepped away from hockey only to be pulled back by the magic of the pond.

It’s hard to explain, I cannot fully encapsulate in words the experience that Maine Pond Hockey Classic provides but I do know that in a world where so many things divide us, this is an event and a game that unites.

Patrick Guerette is the Chief Operating Officer at the Alfond Youth and Community Center located in Waterville, Maine and tournament director for the Maine Pond Hockey Classic.  Proceeds from the Maine Pond Hockey Classic support the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA of Greater Waterville at the Alfond Youth & Community Center.