For hundreds of years hearty, northern folk have invented reasons to brave the winter elements. Curling, luge, ice fishing, hockey and sledding all come to mind as fun Michigan activities spawned by grey days and long nights. Pond hockey is a classic northern past time that is more a religion in Michigan than a sport. Come to St. Ignace Feb 17-19th to see authentic pond hockey competition. Men and women alike will duke it out on thin ice for three grueling days. There's no crying in pond hockey.
Our Detroit Red Wings have dominated professional hockey since its inception. That competitive hockey spirit is bred into every Michigander, together with a desire to hold the Cup. The Stanley Cup is the crown jewel of championship trophies and it will be in St. Ignace for the annual Pond Hockey Championships this weekend! If you would like to get a picture of yourself north of the Mackinac Bridge next to Lord Stanley's Cup then this is your chance!
However, 160 teams of 7 players will be racing you to the Upper Peninsula to put on a pond hockey display that would make Gordy Howe misty eyed. Traverse Magazine featured the Pond Hockey tournament in their magazine last year and they and have a good write up on it online.
The city of St. Ignace supports the tournament because it brings a lot of good people into the frozen streets, restaurants and hotels for one week every year. Included in your team's $325 entry fee is a pub crawl shuttle service running until 2:30am!
A handful of St. Igance hotels and most of the restaurants remain open for the winter. Winter in St. Ignace is a fun place to be when the locals and tourists come out of hibernation to enjoy each other and compete for a birch log and beer bucket championship trophy on the frozen Upper Peninsular lakes.
I play on a team of former high school athletes who dabble in hockey. A couple guys can skate but on the whole it's not pretty. This will be our fourth consecutive year playing in the tournament. We have won our Novice division twice but during a rebuilding year we managed to lose every game. Trades and free agency are huge part of pond hockey!
2012 has been a warm winter. Southern trade winds have not been kind to the pond hockey rinks shoveled off by kids of all ages. Tournament organizers have tried three locations this year in order to find suitable ice. First we started at Moran Bay, on Lake Huron in downtown St Ignace. Moran Bay has hosted the tournament every year until 2012. Next, everything was moved to Lake Michigan along Highway 2. Unfortunately, after the zamboni shack was built and rink preparation began, it was deemed that Lake Michigan was also unsafe. Finally, Chain Lake was chosen as this year's hallowed ground. There will be a hay wagon shuttling people from the Little Bear Ice Arena parking lot in town to the inland lake.
Java Joe's is the best breakfast joint in St Ignace, MI. You need to drive a few minutes north of town on the main drag to find Joes. The restaurant is small but brightly colored and located next to some large hotels which are conveniently closed all winter. Joe is an excitable old hippie who moved up from the South to make a home in Michigan's wild Upper Peninsula. Joe and his wife Sandy run the shop and during the summer they operate Jose's Cantina down the street. They are wonderful people who are generally interested in talking with the tourists. Ask Joe how Wii Fit changed his life! Try his homemade granola and check out the gazillion tea pots Sandy sells. Every tea pot in the place is for sale.
Crossing the Mackinac Bridge is something every person should experience at least once. On your west Lake Michigan connects our UP's raw materials with Chicago. East of the bridge Lake Huron opens into Lake Superior north of Sault Ste. Marie, roughly 60 miles away. The bridge spans a five mile expanse over the Straits of Mackinac providing a road between Michigan's two great peninsulas. The Grand Hotel's front porch is clearly visible from the Mackinac Bridge. St. Ignace is the U.P.'s welcome wagon, inviting guests from Mackinaw City and below into the northern woods, lakes and rivers. The Mackinac Bridge tolls are under $5.00 for 2-axel cars.
If you're going to be in St. Ignace, stop by Cheboygan on your way home!