Pond hockey: ‘As pure as it gets’

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CORALVILLE, Iowa (AP) - It was the kind of day where beards sprouted icicles, wearing wool socks was an exercise in wishful thinking, and your beer rattled frozen inside its can.

That is to say, the perfect afternoon for pond hockey.

“This is the roots of the game out here,” said Tommy Haines, who on a recent Sunday was one of the first players to arrive and climb down the hill to a pond tucked away in a Coralville neighborhood.

Soon, a pond-side fire was crackling, a couple of 12-packs were tucked into a snowbank and Haines and his buddies were lacing up their skates.

“There’s something extra special out here versus the indoor game,” Haines told the Iowa City Press-Citizen (http://icp-c.com/1je9ctI) before pushing off onto the ice.

Last winter, Coralville resident David Greedy began clearing the snow off this secluded pond at the bottom of a tree-lined ravine that runs through his neighborhood. Since then, it’s been a winter meet-up spot for the small but growing group of pond hockey lovers.

You can find a pick-up game several days a week here on Greedy’s Pond, as it’s come to be known by the local rink rats, weekdays included. On this day, 11 skaters shrugged off temperatures in the teens for an afternoon on the ice.

“A lot of it’s the outdoors, a lot of it’s the camaraderie,” said Greedy, who fell in love with the sport after taking up skating a few years ago.

His makeshift rink is about 100 feet by 50 feet, or about half the size of a regulation rink, and is lined by snowbanks instead of boards. Greedy runs a hose down from his house from time to time, smoothing out the grooves with a fresh coat of ice.

This isn’t the only local pond where hockey’s played, of course. The city of Iowa City in recent years has maintained a pond at Lower City Park for skating, and the overhead lighting there allows for hockey after sundown.

Andrew Sherburne, like many you’ll find on the local rinks, grew up in climes even colder than Iowa where pond hockey may as well have been part of the grade-school curriculum.

“Up there it’s just part of the winter tradition,” said Sherburne, a Minnesota native who now lives in Iowa City. “It’s not the only thing you do, but it’s just like sledding, throwing snowballs and making snowmen.”

Haines and Sherburne are partners in an independent movie production company, Northland Films, which made a 2008 documentary titled “Pond Hockey.” With Haines directing and Sherburne serving as a producer, the filmmakers traveled the U.S. and Canada and immersed themselves in the sport’s culture and history over the course of three years.

“It was really kind of a labor of love, that film,” Haines said of the documentary, which examined the shift hockey has seen in recent decades from its outdoor origins to modern indoor rinks.

The documentary won several awards at independent film festivals, and it aired on the NHL Network and regional PBS stations. It also stoked Haines and Sherburne’s passion for a sport they grew up playing.

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