Every year for nearly a decade, teams of eager hockey players gather at Fisherman’s Wharf on the east channel of the Hay River to take part in the North’s top amateur hockey event: The Polar Pond Hockey Tournament. The teams come from as far away as Vancouver and Calgary, and from the towns of northern Alberta and the southern NWT. Sometimes, they even come in costumes — like the team of women who arrived dressed up as giant penguins a few years ago..
They are all there to play pond hockey — also known as shinny. To its fans, pond hockey is considered the purest, most grassroots form of the game there is. And there are a lot of fans, with hundreds of pond hockey tournaments across North America. The game has even been the subject of a 2008 documentary featuring stars such as Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby talking about the passion they have for this simple but exciting version of the sport.
As you can probably guess from the name, pond hockey takes place outside on naturally frozen bodies of water. In the version played at Hay River’s Polar Pond Hockey Tournament, it features teams of four players, no goalies, and smaller nets, and as a result is a game that centers on passing skills and strategy. Slapshots are not allowed and raising the puck is not encouraged — after all, a badly aimed pass might mean a game delay while everyone goes hunting in the snow for a lost puck, and no goalie means you have to work even more closely with your fellow team members to guard against breakaway streaks. But above all else, it’s about fun, playing with friends in the fresh air.
The Hay River tournament, which usually takes place in late March, has steadily risen in prominence since it was first started eight years ago. It even features in the Pond Hockey-Opoly Board Game. Last year saw 36 teams entered in the competition, though previous years have seen as many as 45 teams in the mix.
You don’t have to strap on a pair of skates to enjoy the tournament. It’s a relaxed, family-friendly affair, featuring live music, fireworks, a beer garden, a barbecue tent, and other attractions.
For information about how to register — it’s easy to do online — or volunteer, this year’s schedule, sponsors and other information, visit the Polar Pond Hockey Tournament website.
At the Ptarmigan Inn, The Only Thing Missing is You!
For award-winning, outstanding customer service, stay at Hay River’s premium, full-service hotel: the Ptarmigan Inn. Located in the heart of Hay River’s downtown, the Ptarmigan Inn features modern, well-appointed rooms and a full set of amenities to fit every traveler’s needs.
Dining options include Keys Dining Lounge, the town’s foremost casual fine dining lounge and home to our famous Sunday Brunch, and the recently renovated Doghouse Pub, a lively uptown bar atmosphere with great weekly specials.
For business events, the Ptarmigan Inn offers meeting and banquet facilities that can handle everything from small breakfast meetings to gala dinner banquets.
As well, you’ll find a fully equipped fitness centre, 24-hour desk service and full laundry services.