The Cold, Beautiful Game

“Did you win or lose?”

Trudging up the slope to the parking area, the girl with her skates slung over one shoulder stopped to ponder the question, twirling her hockey stick in both hands.

“I’m not sure. We lost track of the score.”

She smiled widely.

“But it sure was a lot of fun!”

The late afternoon light of the Yukon November day was phasing into early evening. It was approaching 3 p.m.

The low, wan sunlight reflected off the snow of the surrounding mountains to light up the ice surfaces of The Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens.

A busy woman wearing a large fur hat and carrying a megaphone was about to make an announcement. She was standing next to a huge yellow scoreboard located beside a smoking barbecue. It seemed someone was keeping track of wins and losses … and someone else was cooking hamburgers.

“Game time! Game time!” she hollered into the mouthpiece.

Two girls with black and white painted faces á la rock music legends Kiss, skated up to the booth to report on the condition of one of the ice surfaces. As teams were knocked out and the finals approached, only the best rinks were still being played.

Welcome to the annual Chadburn Lake Pond Hockey Tournament. Eight or 10 ice rinks have been cleared in this huge open-air arena; each one measures 40 by 60 feet and each one bears a name. A path runs up the centre which can be navigated by players wearing skates or fans wearing boots.

Perhaps late for his next game, a skater wearing a pink frilly dress and long rope of plastic pearls hurried by. We were able to grab some great seats behind the bench by plunking down our lawn chairs.

Start times are every 30 minutes and games last 20, allowing 10 minutes after each game for ice clearing. The “Zambonis” in this arena are the manual type: players and fans alike pushing snow shovels.

The action between French Toast and the Pylons was end-to-end for the entire 20 minutes. The only slow-downs were digging the puck out of the snow-banked sides. The referee/scorekeeper/timekeeper kept a close eye on the play.

Colourful expressions in both of our official languages rang out.

One of the few straightforward Pond Hockey rules is “No Goalies”. In order to score, you shoot the puck under a two-by-four held several inches above the ice by its two short “posts”. Slap shots are not permitted!

At a bright and early 9 a.m., the tournament had started out with 40 mixed teams, but by this time they were narrowed down to only a few.

Were the Maple Laughs still in?

Retired teams swelled the ranks of the crowd; two players with rubber ducks attached to their helmets arrived. An entire team of Habs swarmed back and forth, playing the next-door game.

Skates scratched on the ice and sticks slapped the surface and clacked together as opponents fought for the puck.

This is a fantastic bit of total Canadiana, Yukon style. Teams are mainly organized by word-of-mouth due to the ever-gaining popularity of this event. Registration is the week prior to the tournament, held annually in November. Listen closely to local radio for information and start planning your Team Theme now.


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