It may just be the single most indelible moment in all of Ketchum, Idaho’s sports history,” it was said of Team USA’s improbable silver shovel run at the 2014 Idaho Pond Hockey Classic . “One that sent an entire town into a frenzy.” American Pond Hockey came of age on January 18th 2014 on a pond in Ketchum, Idaho when an unlikely mishmash of hometown heroes and heroines, after a brutal first round loss, ran nearly 10 hours and six rounds straight into night and into the finals – and ultimately into our hearts. Why are we talking about the silver shovel winners and not the gold? Well, that is the spirit of pond hockey.
Piers Lamb and John Kearney
The story really begins six years ago with two friends and a dream. A dream of starting the single best and most awesome pond hockey tournament of all time. Piers Lamb and John Kearney, childhood friends and pond hockey lovers, began the Classic with just a few friends, a few cases of cheap beer, and a patch of Idaho ice. Now a mere 6 years later the Classic has a reputation of being the greatest, most amateur, most mildly drunkest fun time you can have on a winter day in Idaho on some of the most terribly perfect imperfect ice.
They don’t call it Sun Valley for the cloudy skies.
Stanley Idaho fans getting rowdy. Word is they play way more pond hockey than anyone in the state. Truth? I think so.
The sunny Ketchum skies and warm weather this year set the stage for Team USA greatness. The action started early with 21 teams making the pilgrimage from places like Bremerton, Washington, Boise, Stanley, and some from as far as Vermont and Massachusetts. A crowd of nearly 250 people showed up to cheer on the teams, eat hot brats, drink beers, and watch the drama unfold.
The “Bremerton Bigfoot” came all the way from Washington for the Classic. Awesome to see.
Piers Lamb leads his all Idaho Vandals team down the ice as Douggie tries to track him down.
When I met up with Team USA just after their first round defeat, moral was low. They had just lost team mate Anders Peterson and suffered a brutal loss to the Cactus Tacklers – a shirtless group of ginger haired hot shots – that may have been from Russia. Coach Singin Thomas knew it would be an uphill battle for the team, and that likely there was no matching the rest of the pond hockey teams in sheer skill. Thomas emphasized speed or at the very least denying their lack of speed, defense, and capitalizing on the fact that 2/3 of the team was female to psyche and “chick” their way through each team. He also emphasized that in NO WAY would Douggie “Beardsley” Yeates be taken out for a line change.
A Cactus Tackler tackling team Hooligan.
Douggie taking one to the hole against the Cactus Huggers
Douggie Yeats is a recent Sun Valley resident, and transplant from Vermont. Also a Skidmore College grad, and pond hockey legend, he was a wild card – many would say un-trainable defense man. “He has his own way of doing things, and a general disregard for authority,” says Thomas of Yeats. “He’s often confused about whether he is a defense man or offense man, but I love him like a puppy, and one day he will make a bad dog.” He was a reputedly a legend in some pond hockey circles. Widely known as the only player in Skidmore College pond hockey history to catch a puck in the mouth, skate and check his way down ice, and spit it into the goal (along with a few teeth). Despite his reputation as a bad boy here in Sun Valley, today would be the day that would ultimately define him as a our own local pond hockey legend.
Coach Sinjin Thomas with Douggie “Beardsley” Yeates.
Jenn Embry “Chicking” a Roller Daddy – and sending it toward the goal.
The rest of the team was made up of Kelley Sinnot, Hannah Carr, Jenn Embry, Brenda Moczygemba, and Alex Radslovich (four Sunsets and one of their boyfriends). Coach Thomas, the alchemist of Team USA, knew this group had what it took to become champions.
The romantic notion that a bunch of scrubs felled many of the state’s greatest PH teams through sheer pluck and determination is, however, misguided. Coach Thomas spent at least two days nurturing the team. He held numerous tryout camps, which included psychological testing, maple syrup tolerance conditioning, rock-paper-scissors reps, and thumb war challenges, before selecting a six athlete roster from nearly a dozen prospects. The team then spent two days playing a grinding schedule of exhibition games on the pond, practicing shooting and drinking syrup, trying to teach Alex to skate, and training Hannah to separate her affection for Alex while on the ice. This day they were ready and here to prove they belonged… and belong they did.
The secret to success. Pure maple syrup.
Sinnott Tracks down festive Cactus Tackler Tate Berry.
Time after time, they found themselves somehow, against all odds, winning. First it was Boise’s Hockey Hooligans that totally got “chicked”, then the victorious rematch with the Cactus Tacklers where it was Team USA that left the Cactus Tacklers a sore and prickly bunch. On into the day they played with vigor falling the Czech Lumberjacks like a large Western White Pine, and rolling through Boise’s Team Roller Daddy without looking back.
Lumberjack’s Charles Friedman and Fiance Gretel Kearney double team USA’s Sinnot.
The drama really was this intense. Coach Thomas, hockey hooligan Max Kwok and PHGB’s Spencer Brendel cheer on their Team USA
They then took team Mason Six Select into a shootout where despite Alex’s lack of great skating, he drained a shot to keep the USA dream alive. That set up Bad Dog Douggie Yeates to take one to the “net” and lead his team, against all odds, into the finals.
Thomas rushes Yeates as his team advances into the Final.
Mason 6 Select – Mostly all from Vermont and Massachusetts was comprised of Kearney’s UVM floor six college roommates.
Switzerland’s Bad Boys – aka Team Whiskey Jacques, led out by Bryan “O.C.” O’Connel.
It was just getting dark when the Swiss Bad Boys (Whiskey Jacques) team took to the ice for the last time. They were looking large and intimidating, a little intoxicated, and often muttered phrases no one understood about chocolate and banking. The team was comprised of Billy Cook, Dave Klemer, Mark “Belly” Bellinger, an unknown player (literally a guy no one knew), and Bobby “Lloyd” Farrely, all led by the fast hands and quick stick of Bryan “O.C.” O’Connel. To say the team of Swiss was looking mean was an understatement.
Team Whiskey’s watches as Team USA rolls five straight whilst taking down a case of adult libations.
Thomas, knowing it was going to be a tough game had strategically sent a couple Team USA groupies (Vickie and Emily) to the Swiss to feed them Fireball and distract them while Team USA continued their conquest over the rest of the field. Thomas knew that was their only shot – no pun intended. As Team USA took the ice for the last time, Douggie Yeates started the team in their all day chant/mantra – “We’re not that drunk – we’re not that drunk” . It echoed over the ice and into the hearts of the Swiss, rattling their confidence.
The Glow of competition at Christina Potters Pond
The sun was setting low, and a Ketchum Parks Department truck was eventually driven onto the ice to provide light. The teams hashed it out, and time after time shots were deflected, people were checked, Douggie skated harder, faster and stronger than ever, and onlookers voices went hoarse. A mere 6 seconds from the end of the final 10 minute period, with Team USA up by one, the Swiss’ white haired stallion, “O.C.”, put one in the backdoor and tied the game leading his team into a sudden death shootout. They went shot for shot and into a second round shoot out. In a gripping finale, with everything on the line and skates frozen to feet, it would be the indefatigable, “O.C.” who would drive the final shot home and catapult the Swiss into the victory circle.
Klemer definitely did not sink this one. But what a fitting way to end it with the last fans still on the ice crowded around watching and yelling.
In the end it really was the best day of Pond Hockey ever. And as John Kearney awarded The Swiss with the “Golden Shovel”, tears of joy streamed glistening in the warm snowplow light down Piers Lamb’s face – realizing this was the reason he and Kearney had started the pond hockey classic in the first place. It was for narratives just like this, filled with drama and camaraderie, where legends are born and dreams are crushed. As The Swiss (Team Whiskey’s) posed in the cold for a blurry picture from a fatigued local photographer who could barely feel his fingers, they invited Team USA into the frame. Hugs were had, high fives were given, and beers cheered over a great day of hockey in the best town on earth – Ketchum Idaho. We will see you next year! ~Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver has no idea how to focus as this picture proves. Both USA and Whiskeys pose with the Golden Shovel.