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Pond hockey diehards brave bitter cold

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You can see the ice rinks from the parking lot at Lake Nokomis, but the first place you really want to go to is the warming house.  It's the only indoor facility around.  

The first thing you smell inside is a locker room because that's what it is. Fourteen-hundred sweaty hockey players use the room to change, wait for their next game and maybe have a beer or two.

U.S. pond hockey tournament
Players compete in the U.S. Pond Hockey Tournament.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The 25 ice rinks where the hockey happens are out back, and so Fred Haberman, one of the co-founders of the event.

"This is an idea that's been evolving for some time," said Haberman.  "When I moved up to Minnesota and saw Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis and saw all these amazing hockey players, I became a golden retriever shaking with excitement."

Haberman saw regular guys playing pick-up games, and he wanted to help take hockey back to what he remembered as a kid:  a four-on-four game, no whistles, no goalies, no offsides, no whistles, no icing, no checking.  You just play and score in handmade, wooden crate-like goals.

Fred Haberman
Fred Haberman, co-founder of the U.S. Pond Hockey League
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

"As you can see now, all the players are shoveling {the ice} before the game," he said.  "That's another tradition. That's a community builder, a team builder.  So many of us have logged many hours shoveling our rinks."

They started playing at 8:30 Friday morning, and both players and spectators said they were ready for the elements. Inside the warming house some of the players said it's warmer playing than watching. 

"It's just different than anything else you've played," said player Steve Malke, from Brooklyn Park.  "You know a lot of guys around here - it's a good time."

U.S. pond hockey players
Players compete in the 2008 U.S. pond hockey tournament. Players aim for the wooden box that serves as the goal.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

Back outside Fred Haberman is getting ready for his own game. He's not just a league official. He plays on a team called the Screeching Pterodactyls.  And while some teams like last year's Canadian national pond hockey champions are here to win, other just want to play, no matter how cold. 

"You see out here all these adults playing as if they were kids, and they're reuniting with their friends from grade school, high school, college. And that's a special thing, " Haberman said. "You don't see too much of that."

Haberman's team lost their game Friday, but everyone still gets to play two more Saturday when temperatures are expected to be 10 degrees colder. They might shorten some games or limit play if the cold gets dangerous. It's free to watch the games.