When you think of pond hockey, you probably picture a handful of kids shoveling off a small patch of ice in order to hit a puck around with beaten equipment and makeshift goals. In Inlet, NY, when you say "pond hockey" this is totally not the case - when this small Adirondack town puts their mind to something, it usually goes big (and I mean really BIG)! Heck, just think of the world record-breaking paddling event, One Square Mile of Hope. So when it comes to pond hockey, why should it be any different?
The Adirondack Ice Bowl Pond Hockey Festival
On January 23rd-25th, the 8th Annual Adirondack Ice Bowl will hit the ice on Fourth Lake in Inlet, New York. Once again, on the icy surface just below The Woods Inn, 4 pristine ice hockey rinks will be set up to provide a tournament space for the approximately 45 teams that journey up to the Adirondacks for some epic ice hockey action...
Recently, I had the chance to chat with James O'Brien - one of the event founders and organizers. Jim explained that the event started by accident. When he moved back to the Adirondacks in 2008, he recruited a bunch of friends from college to come help him put a new roof on his house. While the guys were together, they started talking about how they should utilize the place more in the winter. They planned a one-day hockey tournament for the following January in Old Forge, and things quickly took off from there. After the 2009 inaugural event, the tournament was formalized and relocated to the beautiful Woods Inn in Inlet, New York where it now boasts a roster of over 260 players. In addition to the players themselves, it is estimated that over the three-day weekend, approximately ten-thousand people cross through Inlet to watch some good-old-fashion hockey and take part in the festivities that surrounds it. (Not bad for a town with an annual population of less that 400 residents).
Whether you're a player or a spectator, here's a quick rundown of how the ice hockey action will unfold during the 8th Annual Adirondack Ice Bowl:
- All game action will consist of a four-on-four, no goalie format.
- Each game will be made up of two fifteen minute halves separated by a 5-minute intermission.
- Teams are made up to 6-people (4 players - 2 subs) and is open to men & women 21 or older.
- Teams in both the Open Division and Master's Division (40+) will vie to make it into the Championship Games on Saturday night under the lights.
Surrounding the games, a festival of activities unfolds and offers a little something for everyone. When talking with Jim, I asked him what spectators should expect to find at the Adirondack Ice Bowl Pond Hockey Festival. He explained that the festival is very family friendly, between games and between periods, you will see kids playing on the ice hitting the puck around. Snowmobilers come up on their sleds and form almost a perimeter around the outside of the festival - there they will set up camp, ice fish and watch the tournament. But, he said, the real sight to see is "the site itself, is really kind of amazing... especially at night!" As he painted the picture for me, I was ready to be in the middle of the action. The four meticulously maintained rinks, surrounded in 18" hockey boards glisten as the light reflects off of them. Fans and players gather around the rinks and throughout "hockey village," which is set up adjacent to the rinks. There, you can grab a bite to eat at the "Adirondack Ice Bowl Shanty" or some cold beverages at the "AIB Ice Bar" and then warm up next to one of the many fire pits set up around the arena.
In addition to the games and the "Hockey Village" they also set up a giant warming tent (by night - "the party tent") on the shore at The Woods Inn. There you will find a full lineup of entertainment including two-days of live music, a giant TV airing the latest college games and at one point even dueling pianos.
If you are looking for a fantastic meal while you continue to watch the games, the dining room up in The Woods Inn is the place to go. From the giant windows overlooking the outdoor arena, you won't need to miss a shot! Or you can check out some of the other great dining options in Inlet.
Other highlights of the AIB Festival include:
- Saranac Beer Sampling (including some exclusive brews)
- A growing Mites tournament
- A shoot-to-win competition
- The AIB Campfire after the games on Friday & Saturday
In my conversations with Jim, I got the feeling that there is something special about the Adirondack Ice Bowl. Teams travel from as far and wide as Mexico and the west cost of the US to participate annually. That alone says something! He explained that as the weeks get closer, and even as the athletes start to board their plane or load up their vehicles, he is receiving e-mails filled with excitement. But above all this, it was the quote he humbly gave me from a participant who comes up from Boston, Massachusetts that sealed the deal for me, "This one gentlemen comes up to me, and he says, 'Jimmy, I've been to the Super Bowl, I've been to Mardi Gras, but the energy of this event is the best event I have ever seen!' " I am definitely putting this tournament on my calendar of things to check out in 2015.
Still not convinced?
Then check out this sweet documentary on The Adirondack Ice Bowl...
Tips for Spectators
So now that you are convinced and busy making plans to check out the 2015 Adirondack Ice Bowl, here are some additional details to help make your experience go as smoothly as possible:
- Game Time! - Games begin on Friday, January 23, 2015 at 8:00am and continue until 7:45pm. On Saturday, the 24th, games resume at 8:00am and continue to the two championship games. The Masters Division game is scheduled for 6:15pm and is followed by the Open Division game at 7:30pm.
- Parking - Parking is available, but limited at The Woods Inn, however there are overflow lots set up around Town. These can be found at Fern Park, Arrowhead Park and the Fourth Lake Boat Launch.
- Shuttle - To get from the overflow parking lots to the action, a complementary shuttle service will be available. The shuttle will constantly be looping between the parking areas during operating hours. On Friday, it will operate from 8:00pm to 2:00am and on Saturday, it will operate from 2:00pm to 2:00am. In addition, the shuttle will make loops back and forth from Inlet to Old Forge, NY.
- Shopping - If you have never been to Inlet, NY before, then you are in for a treat. While you are in town, it is worth strolling through the wide variety of shops scattered along their "Main Street," and all within walking distance of the tournament. Warm up your toes and offer a distraction for less intense hockey enthusiasts in your travel party.
- Lodging - If you plan on spending some time enjoying the Saranac samples and bellying up to the Ice Bar, be safe... book a room!