Warm Temperatures Threaten Winter Classic Hockey Tournament, Games Continue

By: Al Knox - Email
By: Al Knox - Email

We’ve seen it impact a lot of the outdoor activities we've come to love here in central Wisconsin, the weather. The warmer than usual temperatures have made some outdoor activities impossible-even closing 9 Mile cross country skiing trails.

The warm weather even nearly cancelled an annual hockey tournament that brings hundreds of people to Wausau. Those in charge of the tournament worked hard to keep it going.

For the second year in a row, the Leinenkugel's Classic Pond Hockey Tournament has brought hundreds of hockey players, and their families to central Wisconsin. The tournament brings some of the best competitors to Sunnyvale Lake in Wausau to show what they can do.

Darien Schaefer, of the Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the tournament is a great thing for the Wausau Community. "We have 36 teams that come out from all over. They come from as far away as Canada and even Denver, Colorado."

The tournament is designed for adults and it's one of the biggest ice hockey tourneys in the state. "We see Wausau as a great venue. We could handle up to 100 teams,” says Schaefer.

The winners even get trophies and the claim of being best four man team on the ice.

But this year, the tournament almost didn’t happen. Schaefer says the weather plays a huge role in the hockey tournaments success. "Mother nature hasn’t been as cooperative. January is supposed to be the coldest time but we had 40 degree weather leading up the tournament."

The warmer weather took it's toll on the 10 rinks from the beginning. Players say they could even tell a difference. Paul Culikowski, came to play all the way from Chicago. "You know, there are a few rinks out here where you can tell the ice melted and then refroze, but it’s not going to impact my play at all."

That left the Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Marathon County Youth Hockey Association, the organizations in charge of the tournament, having to come up with alternative plans, ones they would rely on if the weather didn’t turn colder.

Those plans included adding extra water to each rink, and prepping them for every single match. That extra work wasn’t easy, but it's seemed to have paid off says Schaefer. "The teams have been really good about changing schedule. We brought in light kits so we could play into the night."

Thankfully, Mother Nature gave a much needed hand, freezing temperatures Saturday night and into Sunday.

Sunday afternoon, teams are out on the ice competing. A feat that may not have been possible without a well prepared tournament committee. "I think everyone has noticed the work we have done to make sure the games still go,” says Schaefer.

For the players themselves, they say meeting other teams from other states makes their trips worth it, even if they don't win, it’s still something their glad they took part in.

"At the end of the day you just have a smile then go have a beer after so it’s great. This total experience has just been a blast,” says Culikowski.

The tournament ends Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. The winning teams will receive a trophy and specially made Leinenkugel hockey jerseys.

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