The Ultimate US Pond Hockey Championships First Timers Guide
The US Pond Hockey Championships are only weeks away. This will be year number 5 in the Rink Rat division for Open-Faced Hamm’s Sandwich and if it’s your first time making the trek to the hockey mecca I’ve compiled this list of essential travel items and what you should expect when arriving at Lake Nokomis.
2022 Tournament Structure
In the past, the entire tournament was scheduled for one weekend. This year the tournament is going to be spread out over 2 weekends.
January 21–23: Rink Rat, 40+ Rink Rat, 50+ and Bender.
January 28–30: Open, Women’s, Cedar, 40+ Open and Sled
This is actually the biggest bummer of the 2022 tournament. Playing in the Rink Rat division used to afford the opportunity after games to mosey around and watch teams compete at a much higher level. Teams like the Lake Nokomis Legends and 8-time Open Division champions Wright Homes; and the Lululemon Women’s Division team with 3-time World Champion, 2 times Olympic Silver Medalist, former USWNT Captain, and US Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Natalie Darwitz on the roster.
I’m not sayin’ the competition in the Rink Rat division is bad but the opportunity to watch the other divisions play has always been part of the weekend events that keep us coming back year after year. Hopefully, they will return to a one-weekend format again next year.
At Lake Nokomis
When you arrive at Lake Nokomis you’ll pull onto a 1-way road that leads to a drop-off spot at the tournament warming tent. The tent is set up at the entrance and has a place to drop off your gear before parking the car. Lake Nokomis is a park that is surrounded by houses and has a drive that encircles the entire thing. Along this drive is where you will find a place to park. It is not uncommon to have to park far away from the warming tent and wait for a shuttle or just start walking.
Pro Tip: The ice is frozen. You can walk across the lake. Be careful for soft areas on the ice and holes from people who have been ice fishing.
Inside the warming tent are food vendors, a stage, booths with mostly free goodies, and USPHC merch available for purchase.
Check-in at the warming tent the day before the tournament starts (Thursday evening). Typically on check-in night, there is also a youth night happening at the same time. 2022 will probably be different since it’s split up between 2 different weekends. When you check in you’ll get a wristband and a goodie bag with your official 2022 USPHC Hat and other swag/gifts. You MUST have your wristband on for your games. Before each game, the referee will ask to see everyone's. If you aren’t wearing one, you won’t be able to play.
If you’re staying at a host hotel there will be a shuttle that can drop you off and pick you up. In the past, we had issues with the shuttles not running during the times we had games. I would suggest not relying solely on the shuttles and being prepared to use Uber or Lyft when necessary. The shuttles are a great service but were not always our first choice of transportation.
You’ll receive your game schedule when you check-in. Try and be at the warming tent 45 minutes before your game time. This will allow you time to get your gear on and get down to your rink on time. Before each game, you’ll shovel off your end of the ice with shovels that are provided at the rink side. Each team is responsible for shoveling off their side of the rink. Before each game, the referee will huddle the teams up and go over some rules. They will ask to see everyone's wristband and if you aren’t wearing one, you won’t be able to play until you have one on.
All games start and stop at the same time. If you aren’t ready to start by the time the game siren blows you will not be given extra time. There are 2 halves. One team will start with the puck in one half and the other in the second half. Some teams will agree to start with a “face-off” but it is a stick tap faceoff. The referee will keep score and call any penalties. Penalties are fairly uncommon but when they do happen the non-penalized team will get a free shot from center ice.
If the game is tied when the final siren sounds you will play on in sudden death over time. The next team to score wins.
What To Bring
I am an over-packer so this might be a bit overkill for some people. This list should translate to all genders but I am a male so there is probably some implicit bias. The key to being comfortable in the cold is layers. I’ll include some links so you know what I’m talking about if I don’t refer to the items properly.
- Winter Compression Thermal Base Layer (Amazon): I would recommend wearing both tops and bottoms. If you’re playing multiple games pack at least 2 more base layer tops inside of your pond pack. You’ll want to change this layer if it gets wet, especially if it’s extremely cold.
- Thermal Middle Layer (Walmart): This can be short or long sleeves. It should just be a loose layer between your base layer and sweater layer. I wear a long sleeve middle layer when it’s a cold year and sometimes forgo it all together in the warmer years.
- Hoodie or Warm Pull Over: This is the top layer that I wear my hockey jersey over during gameplay.
- Jacket/Windbreaker: You’re going to want something to shield yourself from the wind. This is just another layer that should preferably be waterproof. A typical winter jacket should work here.
- Waterproof Winter Pants (Bauer): This will just go over your base layer so they should be warm. You’ll also want them to be big enough to fit over your shin pads. Since this is your outer layer you’ll want these to be waterproof if possible.
- Jersey: Don’t forget your tarp!
- Wool Socks (REI): If you wear cotton socks inside your skates your feet will freeze off.
- Gloves or Glove Liners: If it's very cold or you have holes in your hockey gloves you’ll want a light pair of gloves that can fit inside of them.
- Jock: protect your bits.
- Balaclava (Balaclava | Face Wraps): This is one you’ll probably want to make sure you have multiple of. I will typically have a fleece balaclava that I wear around the pond and then I’ll have individual face wraps for gameplay. During gameplay, they will get wet and you’ll want something different to wear after the game is over.
- Actual Gloves: A nice pair of winter gloves will be clutch.
- Touque: To keep your hair warm.
- Sunglasses: You’re going to be in the middle of a giant frozen lake. If the sun is out it will be very bright.
- Water Bottle
- Hand / Foot Warmers (Amazon)
- Travel Lotion
- Small Hand Towel: I like to bring a small towel to dry my head off after a game. Trust me, you’ll want to be as dry as possible especially if it’s very cold. Your hair and beard WILL freeze.
- 5-gallon bucket: Useful to help carry things and since most of the rinks do not have benches it makes for a great seat on the side of the rink.
- Cell Phone Battery Pack: Cell phones will die very fast in the cold. If you’re worried about staying connected you’ll probably want some sort of backup battery pack. Outlets are not easy to come by.
- Eye Drops
- Tape & Screwdriver
- Identification & Player Wristband
There are outdoor hockey rinks everywhere in Minneapolis that are free to use by the public. They are located in the city parks and some even have lights for the evening. If you get in a couple of days early check out the rinks! Reach out and set up a scrimmage with teams in your hotel. It’s a great way to meet new people.
There is an extremely nice Bauer store next to an extremely nice R.E.I. store not far from Lake Nokomis. I would recommend visiting the store. It’s pretty incredible.
What Did I Miss
Like I said earlier, I am a serial over-packer so this might be overkill for some. There are also people who are a lot more seasoned than I am for these types of tournaments. These are just the things I’ve learned from the past 5 years. So, what did I miss? I can’t wait to get back to Lake Nokomis!