Pond hockey enthusiast turns mid-life crisis into sport revival

(CBS News) While people in many parts of the nation are staying indoors and out of the freezing cold, enthusiastic sports fans like doing just the opposite in Minnesota.

They're playing hockey -- pond hockey to be exact -- at the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships in Minneapolis, Minn.

The sport has all of the puck handling, hip checks and wrist shots one would expect, but pond hockey is played in the great outdoors, just as it has been for generations.

The event is, admittedly, a product of a mid-life crisis for its 46-year-old founder and organizer Fred Haberman. "This is about being a kid again," he said. "This is about playing the way we played when we were 10 years old."

But this championship is pond hockey on steroids. According to Haberman, 1,900 players from 45 states are represented in the U.S. Pond Hockey Championship, held over three days last weekend on frozen Lake Nokomis.

Filling 26 rinks in front of more than 20,000 spectators are players who ranged from pee-wee to professional.

One of those players was National Hockey League player Andrew Brunette. Asked what's different about pond hockey, he said, "On a rink, you feel contained. But something about skating on a lake is something special, it's something that you just feel free."

It all starts with players shoveling the snow -- Zambonies aren't available to do the job in this locale.

The rough ice surface puts a premium on stick-handling and in the hearty upper-Midwest, Haberman says the colder, the better.

Asked if the ice is thick enough to hold the players, Haberman said, "We're standing on probably a foot or two of ice. It's gets very cold here. (People) probably think we're completely insane, but we love this."

With temperatures dropping below zero, it was a wintry shock for a team from Venezuela. Gabriel Velandia, a player on the team called The Cannibals of Venezuela, said, "We had no idea what this was going to be like."

Velandia, who goes to school in Duluth, invited his hockey team from the tropical country. He said, "We don't have ice at home. We have been playing roller hockey for 20 years now."

The speed of the ice, he says, makes it more challenging -- and then, there's the goal. With no goalie, the challenge is to score in the small space allotted. Velandia said, "The space is really small."

The event had what you'd might expect: a fair share of shivering, and beer drinking, and then something you might not: The Golden Shovel, the weekend's top award, which was presented to a team from each division, including one for women and players older than 50.

The event is always about remembering for Haberman. He said, "This is the one time we all come together and actually be kids ourselves, to play as we played 30 years ago."

For Seth Doane's full report, watch the video in the player above.

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