The Puck Stops Here

No slap shots. No body checks. No refs. No Zamboni. This is ice hockey? Hell—or should we say, "H-E-double-hockey-sticks"—yeah: It's pond hockey, played outdoors, on natural ice, in falling snow and biting wind. And it's so much fun it drew over 6,000 fans to the tiny Canadian town of Plaster Rock (pop. 1,200) for the third annual World Pond Hockey Championships in February.

Danny Braun, the event's chief organizer, says he and a friend dreamed up the idea four years ago "while staring at a sheet of ice 3,000 feet long and 300 feet wide." (That'd be Roulston Lake, which local volunteers spend a month carving into 22 rinks with snowplows, brooms, and hoses courtesy of the Plaster Rock fire department.) The duo started small—40 four-man teams, nearly all local—but thought big: "We called it 'world' right away," says Braun. "We were confident we'd get the interest."

FITTING 'EM IN The contest grew to 64 teams the second year and 80 this year, including four from the U.S. Next year, it'll truly earn its "world" title; Braun's had inquiries from Bermuda, Australia, the United Kingdom, and even Egypt. Local infrastructure can't accommodate any more teams, but Braun plans to work around that by putting players up in locals' houses or bringing in a train with sleeper cars.

WEATHER WOES Braun's biggest challenge? Mother Nature. "Everything else you can control," he sighs. "Last year we had minus-forty [Celsius] temperatures and a blizzard." This year it reached a relatively balmy seven below, cold enough to freeze spectators' beers so they had to be sucked like Popsicles, but not enough to keep 200 fans from staying to watch the (Canadian-born) team from Boston win the maple-wood replica of the Stanley Cup.

The tournament's success is all the more remarkable considering it's a fundraiser. Each team pays a $300 entry fee, though Braun says that just covers expenses; he gets additional revenues with sponsorship from Labatt's and other local companies, a silent auction, a dance at the local high school, and the sale of souvenirs. What does the money go toward? Construction of a new, indoor ice rink for Plaster Rock's kids.

The irony of making men play outdoors so that kids can play indoors is hardly lost on Braun, who nonetheless hopes to infect youngsters with the pond-hockey bug he had growing up: "Back then, we didn't have computers, video games, or cable TV," he says of the days when he and his friends gladly shoveled three feet of snow from atop the ice to play. "Technology is good in many ways, but I'm not sure those are the healthiest choices." And if you don't agree, well, puck it.