By Greg Bates, Special to USA Hockey
Every year, there are a number of teams from Bloomington, Ill., that head up to Eagle River, Wis., for the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships.
One team that makes it a point to never miss the tournament is the Northstars. The 2015 event was their fifth straight year competing.
“It’s probably one of the most fun weekends we have all year,” said Northstars team member Darren Burns, who has played in the Pond Hockey Championships the past nine years after missing the inaugural event. “We’re all adults, have kids, jobs, and this is a weekend just to kind of get away. Most of us grew up playing hockey on the ponds as a kid, throwing our shoes in the snowbanks and playing a game after school or whatever.”
Team member Brian Olson first laced up his skates at the tournament in 2011.
“I kept hearing about it and I thought, ‘Gosh, that sounds like fun.’ Finally, Darren was like, ‘We should get a team together,’” Olson said. “Some of their guys dropped out and we formed this team five years ago, and it’s been truly fun.”
Olson loves being able to spend time with his friends and share a few laughs.
“It’s just coming up here, being with the guys for three straight days,” Olson said. “Most of the fun times we have are off the ice. Being out on the pond is truly, truly going back to when you were a kid, getting on the ice and just having fun. I think that’s what brings us back every year.
“It’s not like adult league where you’re out competing against guys you know all the time. It’s so nice coming up here; you get to see guys from all over. The majority are out here to have fun, and we enjoy it.”
The Northstars compete annually in the Bronze 30+ Division, even though the majority of their players are over 40 years old.
The guys seem to like the competition in the division and fared well this past winter. The team finished 3-1 and just missed out on the playoffs, getting narrowly beaten out with a +27 goal differential (58-31).
The Northstars players, who now have kids playing hockey, have gotten to know one another after competing for more than a decade in an adult hockey league in Bloomington. It’s a little different in Eagle River when they play on the same team, since when they play at home they’re usually on opposite teams.
“Some of us will be on the same team throughout the year and sometimes we won’t — it’s all over the place,” Burns said. “But we’re all close friends, so when we come up here it’s awesome.”
The Northstars have a core group of four or five guys who have to head up north every year to get to the Pond Hockey Championships.
With good, intense games on the ice and no shortage of laughs and bonding opportunities afterward, it’s easy for them to keep coming back.
“Everybody’s a decent skill level and everybody truly loves the sport of hockey,” Burns said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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