A Zamboni prepares one of Polar Pond Hockey's rinks ahead of the 2023 tournament. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The bad news? It’s kinda warm out. The good news? It’s St Patrick’s Day. Polar Pond Hockey will begin in Hay River with a perfectly timed party on Friday night.
The event boasts one of its biggest-ever fields of competitors this year, organizer Terry Rowe told Cabin Radio on Friday. Forty teams are due to compete, amounting to some 300 people.
“The ice is looking great,” Rowe said.
Polar Pond Hockey is an outdoor tournament involving a series of rinks carved back-to-back from the ice of the Hay River. The event has been taking place annually since 2008.
After the 2019 edition was scrapped because of unseasonably warm weather, last year’s tournament doubled as a “save pond hockey” event that highlighted the disappearance of Canada’s outdoor rinks.
This year certainly won’t rank as one of the colder tournaments, either.
On Friday afternoon, Hay River was basking in 4C and sunshine. While some residents might welcome the relief from winter, it’s not ideal pond hockey weather.
“We definitely wanted to be in minus weather,” Rowe said, adding that games don’t start till 5pm so conditions may cool off slightly. “Tomorrow, it’ll be a little bit cooler,” he added, referring to Saturday’s forecast high of -8C.
At Polar Pond Hockey, though, hockey sometimes feels like a side attraction on Fridays. The tournament is renowned for the welcome it extends to participants, and that’s only likely to be enhanced by an accident of timing that sees this year’s opening day fall on St Patrick’s Day.
Rowe said the coincidence was “lucky” but helpful as teams from Yellowknife, Grande Prairie, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and even Iqaluit arrive in the South Slave.
Players get into the welcome party beside the rinks for free. Residents can pay $20 to get in, with music beginning at 9pm.
Games take place all weekend alongside food and music. The town’s francophone association will also host a sugar shack on Saturday, Rowe said.