MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Hundreds of hockey players are hitting the ice this weekend as part of the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. It’s a chance to lace up your skates and celebrate hockey the way nature intended.

The frozen Lake Nokomis provides the perfect backdrop for the tournament’s 25 rinks. Nearly 2,000 players make up 250 teams competing for the ultimate prize–the golden shovel.

One of the out-of-town teams is “The Puppies” from New York. The guys grew up across New England, but were teammates at Fordham University. Playing on a frozen pond is still a new sensation.

“It’s kinda scary we’re on a lake right now,” James Bertorelli said. “You know, being from New York, you don’t picture this.”

Not having the “home ice” advantage isn’t a problem for these guys. And while Minnesotans are known for being nice, it’s not always the case on the ice.

“Those guys got angry with us [during the game],” Steve Casey said. “We haven’t seen that yet. That was nice. They poked the bear a little bit.”

Playing on a pond comes with problems out-of-towners aren’t used to. Pucks take odd bounces and the ice is often uneven.

With no goalie, these can be high scoring games. The Puppies won their first game in the tournament 18-3. They beat former teammates from Princeton University 14-3.

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you learned to skate or how long you’ve played the game.

“It’s more of a fraternity,” Casey said. “There’s mutual respect, even for playing guys that are 30 years older than us, they still have some legs and some old man strength. They gave us a good game.”

“It’s the whole feeling being out here with everyone, you know, playing outdoors,” Bertorelli said.

The hockey tournament continues through Sunday. It is free to stop by and root on the any teams.

Mike Augustyniak