By Jake Evans
In a small logging community in northern New Brunswick, lies a town by the name of Plaster Rock. Fifty-one weeks out of the year, this is a sleepy Canadian town with not much to offer in the way of tourism. However, every year on the second weekend of February, this sleepy town comes alive, as the World Pond Hockey Championship is held on nearby Roulston Lake. Plaster Rock only boasts one motel with about fifteen rooms, so for those few days every year, people from near and very far shack up with kind locals who turn their homes into a makeshift bed and breakfast.
For the second straight year, my team, the Nashville Hot Chickens, made the 1,500-mile trek north, to experience the game of hockey in its purest form. Growing up a hockey player and fan in the South, I only got to experience real outdoor ice once, until I got to Plaster Rock. When you take that first step on the real lake ice, in the elements, in a totally new environment, you’re taken aback at the beauty of the area, and the simplicity of the game. You see a smaller rink, a smaller net, and smaller teams. Then in an instant, the puck drops and it just becomes another game of hockey, like you’ve played 1,000 times before.
It’s like riding a bike or chewing gum.
Teams in this year’s tournament came from all over Canada, as far south as the Caymen Islands, and as far east as the Czech Republic. We had the strange pleasure of staying across the hall from the Bratislava Blizzards, native to the capital of Slovakia, in one of the bed and breakfasts I described earlier.
All I’ll say about that is that we were happy about the language barrier.
Each morning of the tournament started the same for us. We would wake up at 8 a.m., go upstairs to eat a home-cooked breakfast, and sit and talk with the other three teams that shared the bed and breakfast with us. The early parts of the conversation mostly revolved around the fun that was had the night before, as the tournament hosted an after-party every night of the weekend. These were some of the most memorable times of the tournament, as we got to sit down with guys from Maryland, Toronto, and Bratislava, and talk about our lives and what brought us to Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. Our roommates were state troopers, artists, contractors, semi-professional hockey players, and fathers, while our host was a French-Canadian hunter who enjoyed hosting and cooking for guests in his cabin.
After the delicious breakfast and a few hours to recoup, we would head to the ice to begin our day of hockey. We’d arrive, set up our gear for the day, and get ready for two intense games of 4 on 4 hockey, against one of four other teams in our pool. This year, we drew an all-Canadian pool.
Just our luck.
To save some time, we lost all five games. Some were closer than others, but in the end and to no one’s surprise, Canadian hockey outlasted Tennessee hockey.
Sure, we are a solid team of good, young skaters, but if a group of Canadians came to Tennessee for a football tournament, you’d expect them to lose every game, right?
The same principle applies here.
But that’s not the point of the World Pond Hockey Championship, and that’s not why we traveled 27 hours into the frozen woods of New Brunswick. The beauty of this annual event isn’t in the hockey itself, it’s in the people that come to play. Strangers become friends in a matter of moments, as everyone bonds over the common ground they share in hockey.
From there, you get incredibly genuine connections and friendships, as no one else in the room has any idea about you, your past, your mistakes, etc. It’s all about that moment, enjoying it to the fullest, and making memories with a stranger from another country. And if you’re lucky, you just might play some hockey in between.
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