January 8, 2012 - Story appeared in the Sunday January 8th Burlington Free Press:
"Lou DiMasi grew up in a crossover generation of hockey players.
He is the eldest child of a hockey-playing family, the son of the long-time St. Michael’s College coach by the same name, and a Norwich University Hall of Fame player.
Like many of his generation, DiMasi spent plenty of time learning the game on the artificial ice of indoor arenas. Yet among his fondest memories were the Saturdays when he would scurry from formal practice inside to day-long games of outdoor hockey at Starr Pond.
Recalling those long, cold and exhilarating hours of shinny, DiMasi is serving as tournament director for the Lake Champlain Pond Hockey Classic, an event that last winter’s heaviest snowstorm delayed by a year.
“The inspiration for the Classic is to bring hockey back to its basics,” said DiMasi, who is working with the founder of Pond Hockey Classic, Scott Crowder. “Growing up playing hockey in Burlington, some of my favorite memories are playing on the lake and on ice at a park the city would flood.
“The majority of hockey players, especially in Vermont, would say that they grew playing on the pond and that is exactly what we are trying to recreate. There is nothing better than being outside in the elements, not being able to feel your feet or hands and playing hockey with your friends,” DiMasi said. “Sometimes you forget that you play games for the fun of it, but on the pond it’s impossible not to have fun.”
Crowder founded the highly successful New England Pond Hockey Classic at Lake Winnipesauke in New Hampshire, which had 150 teams competing on 15 rinks last year and is expected to top 200 teams this year.
Last winter, 76 teams from throughout the Northeast registered for the Lake Champlain event. However, the tournament had to be cancelled after a storm dumped 35 inches of snow on Mallets Bay. According to Crowder, organizers had measures in place to deal with the snow, but the amount affected the integrity of the ice.
“The snow is like a heat blanket on the ice,” said Crowder, adding that slush formed and the ice, which had been thick enough for the event, deteriorated to potentially unsafe conditions.
This year, the event is scheduled for Feb. 17-19 with a weather date for the following weekend. In addition, the Lake Champlain Classic will be presented by Labatt Blue and sanctioned by USA Hockey. As of the holidays, about 35 teams has registered, but Crowder and DiMasi said they were optimistic that registrations would climb rapidly.
The two conceded the quirky weather always casts an air of uncertainty over the event.
“Unfortunately there are always a number of weather circumstances which we cannot control,” said Crowder. “We need cold weather, solid ice and limited amounts of snow leading up to and throughout the event weekend.”
He said, “These are not enough reasons for us to not host the event. We are passionate about the sport of hockey and organizing these events for the hockey community,” adding however that organizers would never compromise the safety of players or workers.
As for the “rinks”, Crowder said snow is cleared and the natural ice flooded by drilling holes and pumping lake water over the surfaces, essentially recycling the water. The Classic features numerous divisions, ranging from younger players to teams consisting of 40- and 50-year-olds.
“What I found in my tournament in New Hampshire is two groups of people participate in this,” said the 26-year-old Crowder. “My father grew up playing outside and for him and people like him, this is nostalgic.
“For kids my age, this is awesome, an opportunity to spend the weekend with the guys and girls, play pond hockey and drink beers.”
Among the rules are: helmets and hockey skates are required; no goalies or goalie equipment, nor can a skater “play” goal; no off-sides or icing; games are two 15-minute halves with a 2-minute intermission; and no checking.
“The purpose of the PHC is to provide the hockey community with a traditional, nostalgic and competitive pond hockey experience with benefits everyone involved from the local and regional businesses, to the sponsors, spectators, volunteers and of course the participants,” Crowder said.
And, as DiMasi said, to play hockey just for the sheer joy of it."
Click here to read story on BurlingtonFreePress.com.
Contact Free Press correspondent Ted Ryan at TedRyanVT@aol.com