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2009 Pond Hockey Festival has potential to become yearly event

Do you like hockey? More importantly, do you like to play hockey?

If so, an event is coming to the Fargo/West Fargo area that will give you an outlet for all that pent-up competitive spirit.

The Urban Plains Center, the USHL Fargo Force and Scheels, in cooperation with the Fargo Parks District, are hosting the first annual Pond Hockey Festival on Thursday, Dec. 31, from 10 a.m. to 4:05 p.m. Team check-in runs from 9-9:50 a.m.

Sixteen small ice sheets (60 feet wide by 80 feet long) will be constructed east of the UPC. The boards for each sheet were donated by Home Depot and Simonson Lumber.

The playing area is "actually on the Fargo Parks land and they've given us the OK to use it," said Andy Leapaldt, director of business operations for the Force.

The tournament format with be three-on-three round robin play consisting of 25-minute games and running time. Teams will play a minimum of three games apiece with a chance to play up to six games. There will be 124 games overall.

Registration is $100 per team and each team can have up to six players. Teams will be sorted into one of four age groups: 13 years and younger, 14-20, 21-35 and 35 and older. The fee not only pays for registration, but also covers game tickets for each team member to see the Fargo Force face off against Team USA at 6:05 later that night.

The Pond Hockey Festival grand champion from each division will win either the Fargo Force Old Timers Cup or Metro Sports Foundation Kids Cup, the likes of which will be engraved with the winners' names and kept at the UPC.

A community event

According to Leapaldt, the Pond Hockey Festival was an effort to make a community event that "not only speaks to the hardcore fan, but also the regular everyday fan," he said.

As far as who came up with the idea, Leapaldt points to Lance Johnson of the Urban Plains Center.

"He said, 'what do you think about playing a pond hockey tournament?' And I was like, 'yeah, that sounds great,' " Leapaldt said .

And if the first year goes well, he said, the potential to expand during future events is limitless.

"We named it a 'festival' and not a 'tournament' for a reason," Leapaldt said. "There's actually more water and more space then we're going to be leveraging this year. We really want to make this a perennial event. We'll have the opportunity to expand it in the future, whether that means a boot hockey tournament or broom ball, who knows?

"The sky's the limit."

The Pond Hockey Festival also was a way to give back to the community, Leapaldt said. So far, the Fargo Flyers hockey club has signed on to provide concessions for the tournament and "will keep all profits from that," Leapaldt said.

He also said that if any other organizations are interested in providing services for the event, they need only call and ask.

Volunteers are also still needed to help out. Clock runners who will double as impromptu refs are required for each game. But don't worry about your hockey prowess.

"They won't be on skates," Leapaldt said. "They just need to be able to run the clock and call penalties."

But with the idea of this being an, according to Leapaldt, "laid back, have-a-good-time kind of tournament," hopefully there won't be many players taking a time out in the sin bin.

Leapaldt also encourages teams to get the maximum of six players together. Twenty-five minutes may seem like a short time, but multiply that by six and add the hard work it takes to play the game and you'll be happy to rest your body from time to time.

One important note is that there will be no raising of the puck. There really is no need since there is no net. In place of the net will be a box "four feet long and a foot-and-a-half deep," Leapaldt explained. "There are two openings on each side to score in."

And don't worry about having to bring your breezers and pads if you don't want to.

All you need is "your helmet, stick and skates," he said.

But what if you just want to play the game but don't have a team to play on? Leapaldt said that interested individuals can contact the tournament and get placed on a waiting list. If rosters come in with less than the maximum number of players, teams will be asked if they want to add an additional skater.

Leapaldt hopes the public interest in the tournament will be strong.

"Hopefully this is something that happens year after year," he said. "We truly want to make it a community event."