When Cody Mann scored on a breakaway to give Grand Rapids a 3-2 overtime win against defending champions Benilde-St. Margaret’s on Saturday, the 1,500 or so fans left standing around the glassless rink on Pokegama Lake jumped off the bleachers and broke into celebration.
Or maybe they were just running for the warming shacks.
The whipping winds and bitterly cold temperatures resulted in one of the most extreme outdoor hockey games ever played at any level, as wind-chill readings during the game reached minus-30, flying snow made for near whiteout conditions and everyone was doing whatever it took to stay as warm as possible.
Players and fans alike had to fight through the blowing snow just to see. Volunteers with shovels had to remove the snow from the end wall and corners during every TV timeout. People packed into one of the several tents set up on the lake during intermissions to try and warm up just a little bit.
Even the scorekeepers, who were seated at one end of the rink, were shivering while trying to make it through the day.
“It can’t feel my feet” or “this isn’t safe” were words muttered by more than a few spectators. One referee even joked that it wasn’t the heat that was getting to him as much as it was the humidity.
All in all, though, it didn’t take away from what Hockey Day 2013 really was – a magnificent display of not only hockey, but community effort, love for the game and a celebration of winter.
Cold, windy winter.
“This is how we grew up playing,” said Grand Rapids goalie Hunter Shepard, who had wind and snow blowing in his face as he tried to stop pucks all afternoon. “This is how we made ourselves, playing on the outdoor rinks. There’s a lot of pride. Look at the crowd we had. We have the best fans in the state.”
The scene on Pokegama Lake will be the measuring stick for all Hockey Days to come. The backdrop of islands, fish houses, and snowmobiles made for a true display of pond hockey, as if the small indent on the lake was carved out over time with this one event in mind.
No high-definition TV could do it justice. It was a true “you just had to be there” day.
“This is a great event and a great venue up here hosted by Grand Rapids,” said Eagan’s Zach Glienke. “It’s an unbelievable experience for all of us and we’re just honored to be a part of it.”