Down a woodsy side road in New Brunswick’s Tobique River Valley, a clearing in the pines suddenly appears. Here, a frozen pond has been divvied up and carved into 20 rinks for the World Pond Hockey Championship. Every year, a crowd about eight times bigger than the village population of just over 1,000 gathers to watch teams from as far as the Czech Republic and the Cayman Islands face off for the coveted Goodwill Cup – a handcrafted wooden replica of Lord Stanley’s silver trophy.
Every year, the sleepy town of Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, welcomes 120 pond hockey teams from around the world.
Posted at a junction 17 kilometres from Roulston Lake, a handmade sign sticks out from the snow–blanketed valley to show visitors that they’re headed in the right direction.
The boys are back in town: (left to right) Greg Boyd, Tom Godber, captain Jim Allan and Rob Allatt of the 12–time–returning Montreal Lagers. Eight years ago, the Westmount, Quebec–based team traded accommodations in a rented farmhouse for a permanent address on Main Street. Wrapped in stripes to match their jerseys, with a larger–than–life tankard lawn ornament, the Lager House sleeps 20 players bunk–style and features a basement bar, the Lager Outhouse, that’s decked out with jerseys from teams the Lagers have faced off against over the years.
A volunteer team of Tobiquers rises early to resurface the ice by shaving then flooding each individual rink. The crew uses hoses provided by the local firehouse tanker, skid–steer loaders and a couple of bristle–mounted tractors that serve as makeshift Zambonis. It takes a village: More than 150 volunteers help keep the tourney running smoothly.
Referee stripes and a sweet–potato patch mark Mathieu Moreau as a member of the McCain Zebras spud–farmer team from Grand Falls, New Brunswick, 35 kilometres to the west (the Penguins cap and jersey number signal that he’s a Mario Lemieux fan, too).
A triumvirate of pines, a row of flags and the Flame of Life ice sculpture form the backdrop for ceremonial puck drops and photo ops.
Live on the lake from a toasty trailer, World Pond Hockey Radio broadcasts game times and final scores over a PA system.
Carly Montpelier, Natasha Philippe, Chelsea Doyle, Annabelle Dumoulin and captain Serena Palmer (left to right) of the Trenton Beavers, formerly the Airforce Women.
Czech mate: The Old Guns from Ždár nad Sázavou, Czech Republic, pose for a drone in celebration of their victory over the Puck Lights from Massachusetts. Teams play four–on–four with no goalie and low nets that discourage slap–shooting showmanship and promote more technical gameplay.
Well–worn gauntlets and spare pucks are regular sightings out on the pond.
Let’s hear it for the Acadian Boys. In 2018, the five–time defending champions were upset in a nail–biting playoff match, losing to the Old Guns, the first team from outside of North America to nab the cup. In the women’s division, the Eh Team, from Moncton, New Brunswick, outgunned (and out–punned) 11 teams to keep the timber trophy close to home.