MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A dusting of snow is scraped aside by a cadre of shovels. It is the final bit of preparation for a weekend of play.
"We've got guys with shovels, walking around each rink and we're filling cracks," said Tim Jenzer, ice manager of the North American Pond Hockey Championship. "We'll get water on them and it will freeze up and we're good to go."
Beginning Friday, 700 skaters begin pairing off to win their divisions in the 2019 North American Pond Hockey Championship in Excelsior. In many ways, it's a way for all rink rats to rekindle a major part of their childhoods.
Unlike the conditions in 2017, when extremely warm weather left the rinks covered in pools of water, this year promises ideal playing conditions.
"Couldn't be better," said organizer Steve Youngstedt.
Eighty teams are competing on 12 pond hockey rinks. Every dollar produced from the three-day tournament benefits charity. This year's beneficiary will be the Hendrickson Foundation.
"They started a new blind hockey program, they work with veterans and just a bunch or array of different things to get people who are normally not involved with sports to get involved in hockey," Youngstedt said.
If nothing else, Excelsior Bay will be the idyllic setting of crackling fires and frozen fun. Games, exhibitions and live music will continue through Sunday afternoon.
"We're pretty confident that we'll have probably the best surface we've ever had," Jenzer said.
This indeed is the genesis for what professional and collegiate teams capitalize on each winter; a style and spirit of outdoor play that is the true "winter classic."
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