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Home Story Skating to Save Pond Hockey in Hay River

Skating to Save Pond Hockey in Hay River

A blur of skaters rushes past as the familiar sound of sticks hitting ice echoes in the chilled morning air. In a flash, a puck soars through the air, slicing across the frozen white horizon. Is there a more Canadian scene than backyard hockey on a crisp winter day? This is the nation’s favourite pastime in its purest form. And it’s at risk.

Climate change is threatening outdoor hockey. Future generations could lose a quintessentially Canadian hobby to warmer, shorter winters — even here in the North. It’s the reason 200 fans and players gathered last March in Hay River, uniting with the global hockey community to try and save pond hockey from climate change. Amateurs, pros and even some celebrities flooded the ice for the first full Polar Pond Hockey event in Hay River to take place in five years, offering a much-welcome boost to the town’s post-COVID-19 spirits and economy.

Thirty-five teams — 10 of them made up of women and 11 competing from out-of-town — joined in the pond hockey tournament. It took place during a weekend of exciting events at Hay River’s legendary Fisherman’s Wharf Pavilion that included a gala dinner and all-star game. Those in attendance were Olympian Meagan Agosta, NHL alumni Craig MacTavish, Andrew Ference and Curtis Glencross.

Organizing festivities was Terry Rowe, the president of Polar Pond Hockey and lifelong resident of Hay River. Rowe grew up on Miron Drive, just down the road from the town’s old Kiwanis rink. He and his brothers played backyard hockey every winter, either at the rink, at a pond on his grandparents’ farm or just wherever there was ice to skate on.

“I grew up playing hockey here in the North, where the winters are so long and dark and cold,” says Rowe. “Keeping that backyard tradition alive is important. Some of our communities don’t even have ice rinks. It’s crucial to have backyard rinks available and ponds just to be able to play and have a good time.”

Backyard or “shinny” hockey has long been a cultural tradition in the Northwest Territories. According to the diaries of 18th Century Explorer Sir John Franklin, he and his men would spend their leisure time in the community of Délı̨nę playing games on the ice with skates and sticks. For this reason, many now call Délı̨nę the birthplace of hockey.

Preserving those games is something the territory and Polar Pond Hockey are committed to as they face increasingly warmer winters. Polar Pond Hockey’s 2019 event, for instance, was cancelled because of an unseasonably warm March.

“Our government is witnessing firsthand the negative effects of a changing environment on our community,” says Kandis Jameson, Mayor of Hay River, who adds that the Hub of the NWT is proud to be taking a stance to ensure a healthy future while showcasing the passion and spirit of pond hockey.

The Polar Pond Hockey event was part of a global effort led by Helsinki-based Save Pond Hockey which helps communities across the world organize hockey tournaments so that the profits can be donated to projects tackling the climate crisis. The organization has put together over 25 tournaments for 3,500 players so far, including Stanley Cup champions, Olympic medalists and even the president of Finland, and those events have generated over $100,000 in donations for direct climate action.

This past year, Hay River became Save Pond Hockey’s first Canadian location, chosen with support from the Climate and Sport Initiative. It’s a local tournament with a global goal, brought about in part thanks to support from the South Slave Regional office of NWT Industry, Tourism, and Investment.

As well acting as a community fundraiser, the all-star weekend was an important platform to educate, engage and empower awareness on climate change action. Not to mention, also a blast!

“Having minor hockey players able to skate with NHL alumni and having our all-star game was over and above what we’ve been able to host before,” says Rowe. “It was a great event.

Polar Pond 2023 is just around the corner! Visit their website to register your team today.

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