SIDNEY — Dan Didham of Nova Scotia walked around Snow Pond at the Maine Pond Hockey Classic in his hockey pads, taking in the four games being played. He said the event made Maine feel like home, so much so that he and his teammates brought gift baskets filled with Canadian craft beer to give to their opponents.

“Usually we go to New Brunswick to pond hockey tournaments but sometimes we go to New York,” said Didham, 48, a hockey player for 40 years. “Everyone here loves hockey.”

Sixty teams and more than 400 players from as far as Florida competed in the Maine Pond Hockey Classic over three days last weekend. Mainers accounted for 280 of the players – a testament to the sport’s growing popularity among adults in the state.

It’s the Mostly Ex-Ponies in white against the Phantoms during the Maine Pond Hockey Classic. What it really is is hockey players who are passionate about their sport playing as often as possible. Maine had 1,660 registered adult players last year. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

In the past four years the number of Maine adults playing organized hockey has doubled – from 824 in 2013 to 1,660 in 2016, according to USA Hockey, which tracks participation levels across the country. The growth comes after nearly 20 years of hockey participation hovering mostly between 400 to 800 adults in Maine.

The Maine Pond Hockey Classic was founded in 2013. This year it attracted twice as many players as in 2016, said tournament founder and director Patrick Guerette. He expects the event will one day rival the nation’s biggest pond hockey tournaments, such as the New England Pond Hockey Classic in Meredith, New Hampshire, which draws more than 200 teams, and the largest, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships in Minneapolis (more than 250 teams).

The teams in Sidney played four-on-four games with no goalies. The games consisted of two 20-minute periods and were played on 75-by-150-foot ice sheets outlined by boards. Each team was scheduled to play three pool games, followed by a single-elimination tourney.

Joe Hersom of Gardiner is ready for a little warmth after a game of pond hockey. Whether indoors or outdoors, not much can keep hockey players from their sport. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Many said playing hockey helps them maintain a beloved pastime from their youth.

Chad Foye has played for 45 years, since he was 6. Foye, the boys’ hockey coach for 20 years at Cony High in Augusta, said he’s seen more adults take up the game later in life.

“My best friend picked it up,” Foye said. “He played basketball in school. Now he’s got a rink behind his house. It’s great.”

The Murphs, the only all female team, strike a pose after playing a game. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Foye said playing in adult hockey leagues is not an easy commitment because ice time is expensive and hard to come by. There are no practices and games can start as late as 11 p.m.

“We battle through it,” Foye said.

Other players at the Pond Hockey Classic called hockey a sport that can be played for a lifetime.

“I want to play well into my 50s or 60s, as long as my knees hold up. There’s a guy here who is in his 70s,” said Justin Lawler, 28, of Oakland.

Patrick Dubay, 53, of Stillwater has played his whole life and isn’t ready to stop. He even played in an adult league when he moved from Maine to Virginia. Since he returned to Maine in 2010, he only has played pickup games. But he’s looking for an older adult league to join.

“I just play stick-and-puck,” said Dubay. “I haven’t found the right guys who skate at the same speed.”

Players shovel off hockey rinks between games. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Jared Nicholas of Bath plays on a men’s league in Rockport at the Midcoast Recreation Center, as well as in pickup games on the weekends. Nicholas said he’s seen more adults jumping into pickup games.

“You pay $10 to $15 to go to skate,” said Nicholas, 27. “You pay as you go. I think there could be more of it, there’s more of a market for it than the (ice arenas) can accommodate. Rinks are expensive. Ice time can be $180 an hour. When people get older and have kids, they just want to be able to play.”

Tim Bradford of Richmond played in the Pond Hockey Classic for the first time last weekend. He was impressed to see teams playing during a Saturday snowstorm. He was even more impressed to see those same players trying to set up the beer tent in gale-force winds.

“Adult hockey has definitely gotten bigger,” said Bradford, 26. “I think there could be more events like this. People would come. The sky is the limit.”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPph

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