Teams play on multiple rinks during a morning round Saturday during the Maine Pond Hockey Classic on Snow Pond in Sidney. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

SIDNEY — John Massey and Matt Lee spent their winters growing up in Waterville skirmishing  on the ice, cementing their lifelong friendship over hockey.

“We’re all very passionate,” Massey said moments after coming off the ice midday at Saturday’s Maine Pond Hockey Classic on Messalonskee Lake.

“It’s kind of cool that we get to bring the band back together for a weekend to get out and play what we grew up doing,” Massey said. “We don’t see these guys throughout the year but we get the one weekend a year to come out and play. And it’s the most fun we could ever ask for: We’re hockey players.”

They also come out to support the Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA of Greater Waterville at the Alfond Youth & Community Center, where the tournament’s proceeds go. Between them, the organizations serve thousands of children and youth in and around the Waterville area.

The soundtrack to the end of their game Saturday morning was the wailing vocals of Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin declaring their arrival from the land of ice and snow pouring from speakers set up in the middle of the four rinks set up for the weekend’s play.

Teams named Hat-trick Swayze, in green, and the Bad Knees Bears play Saturday during the Maine Pond Hockey Classic on Snow Pond in Sidney. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

But the music for the players in the three rinks then in use was the scrape of wooden hockey sticks against ice and the thwack of the puck against the low wooden boards that defined their area of play.

Every year brings different challenges for the tournament. Last year, an ice storm harried the start of the tournament weekend. A couple of years ago, high winds made putting up a big tent on the ice impossible. The 2021 Maine Pond Hockey Classic brought challenges organizers have never faced before.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has altered so much of daily life across Maine and elsewhere, also altered the weekend’s events. Tournament Director Patrick Guerette said teams that have been coming from as far away as Michigan, New Jersey and Nova Scotia are staying home this year, and so are the spectators  and volunteers, who have traditionally turned out by the hundreds at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts to support the event. Instead of more than 80 teams, about 20 were expected to play.

Normally, the tournament would run from Friday night to midday Sunday. This year, play was expected to wrap up Saturday night. And the annual Polar Bear Dip, which is a popular fundraising draw, this year has been changed to Shiver yer Shamrocks, a virtual fundraising event scheduled for March 20, for which participants are invited to create and film their own shiver challenge and post it to the Facebook page for the Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCA at the Alfond Youth & Community Center for awards consideration.

“This year, it’s only teams within the state, and actually, most of them are very much local,” Guerette said earlier in the week, adding that most were coming from within about a half-hour radius from Messalonskee Lake.

After playing a game, Ben Brennan was one of the players scraping the rinks Saturday during the Maine Pond Hockey Classic on Snow Pond in Sidney. After they scraped it the ice surface was flooded between sessions. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

And to further limit risk of exposure, games were timed so that a limited number of teams, each with its own changing tent and warming area, would be on the ice at one time.

“We usually get a lot of volunteers to score keep and keep track of the games and stuff like that, because it’s pretty competitive,” he said. “We changed the format. This year, it’s pretty much pickup pond hockey. There’s no tournament, there’s no playoffs. We’re calling it our just-for-fun division.”

So out were the playoffs and the trophies, but in was the fun and the joy of hockey that was all hands and no hitting on a perfect winter afternoon. With the temperature hovering around 20 degrees and little wind on the lake under a bright blue sky, Saturday’s conditions were ideal.

“I live down in Portland now, and just being able to come down here and play with my childhood friends — I mean you have people like Katy Massey, who played at the University of Maine and who was a stud there — and to be able to play co-ed, I mean it’s so much fun,” Lee said. “That’s the best part.”

After their games were over, players chat before packing up to leave Saturday between rounds of the Maine Pond Hockey Classic on Snow Pond in Sidney. Since the lodge wasn’t open organizers provided tents for players to change in. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Scratch the surface of a pond hockey player and the memories come sliding out.

“A lot of these guys, the Lewiston guys and the Waterville guys — we all grew up with rinks in our backyard. This is bringing us all back,” Massey said.

“My dad’s house had a rink in the side lawn, and his dad,” Lee said, nodding toward Massey, “had a rink in the backyard. So we’d tear up that ice, and my dad would flood it so we’d go across to play at the other rink.”


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