Glen Ellyn-area team took first place in 60+ Division.
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI
Hockey builds lifelong friendships.
The guys from the pond hockey team Black Ice have experienced that firsthand. Now, they have a hockey story they will be sharing with family and friends for the rest of their lives.
Black Ice, which is comprised of six guys from around the Glen Ellyn area, made its third trip to compete in the annual Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships on Feb. 9-11 in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
The team used its on-ice chemistry and took advantage of a fortunate bounce to win the championship in the 60+ Division.
“It was a lot of fun,” Black Ice captain Jim Green said. “They’re just a ball, you’ve got to love it. It’s playing hockey outdoors.”
Black Ice had competed in the tournament two other times in 2013 and ’14. After placing runner-up in the 50+ Tier I Division in 2014, the guys — which included this year’s team members Green, Steve Silvey and Brent Slezak — got together and made a pact.
“Jim said, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this again. Let’s do it when we all turn 60. We’ll go up there one last time and go up there and try and win it,’” Silvey said. “And it worked out.”
Said Green: “Our goal is to win it and we’re going to go back up there and win it. That was our motivation.”
That motivation drove the Black Ice players the entire tournament.
“I was so happy for Jim, because he was the one that put everyone together,” Silvey said. “There’s no way to replace. There’s no other sport like hockey. Most of us played other sports through school. I played three sports in high school; I played three sports in college. Jim played other sports, the other guys played other sports — a few of us golf. But there is no sport like hockey for the camaraderie. The people are nicer. Collectively the people are much different, they’re much more family-orientated. Hockey’s the best.”
Green, Silvey and Slezak were joined by Craig Ehrlich, Kevin Eltoft and Ron Hayden to form this year’s Black Ice team. All six guys don’t play together on a regular basis, but the common denominator is they all grew up playing hockey at the Elmhurst YMCA of Metro Chicago.
The guys, who are all in their early 60s, had a rocky start to the tournament, falling 8-7 to Frozen 7 of Eagle River. Black Ice bounced back in its next two games on Saturday to win by a combined score of 45-8.
“As many times as I’ve played it, when we got out there and our first game we didn’t play very well,” Green said. “We didn’t have the right strategy — there’s definitely strategy for pond hockey vs. regular hockey … we learned very quickly. After we had our first game we went out and had our dinner, talked about our strategy and came up with a great strategy. The second game we came out strong, really strong.”
Going 2-1 in pool play had Black Ice sitting in third place with the top two teams advancing to the championship on Sunday. However, Louts, a team that went 3-0, withdrew from the tournament due to having too many injured players. That allowed Black Ice to slide into the title game. The guys didn’t take the free pass for granted, taking down the undefeated and defending champions Heartland Hockey Camps, 11-3.
The members of Black Ice exerted tremendous camaraderie and teamwork throughout the tournament to achieve their goal of winning the title.
“It was the right six guys,” Silvey said. “We had three of us up front doing the job up front: me, Jim Green and Kevin Eltoft. We all worked together really well. We had three guys back, and they all did a terrific job.”
Taking home the championship was even more special because of the group that played together.
“To play hockey with them and then to play hockey with them 50 years later on a pond in northern Wisconsin, it’s phenomenal,” Green said. “It’s unbelievable.”
The guys’ experience just goes to show that hockey is a lifelong sport and players of any age can have fun and excel at an elite level.
“There’s not too many other sports or activities that provide you the opportunity for those kind of relationships, lifelong relationships,” Silvey said.
“I’m a believer in lifelong sports, just like I’m a believer in lifelong education,” Green said. “You’ve got to continue to learn and you’ve got to continue to stay active. And hockey is a great way to stay active. As hard and tough as the sport sounds, I still think it’s much easier on your body than things like running. … I think hockey is a lifelong sport and you can play it forever and create friendships that last a lifetime.”
When the guys made their pact after the 2014 pond hockey championship, the plan was to come up one final time, win the title and be done. But not lacing the skates up again on the pond in the biggest hockey tournament of the year is going to be tough.
“The reality is something tells me come August when they start to do registration, we’ll be first in line just because it’s so much fun,” Green said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.