PHOTOS BY BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES
If the Fountain of Youth has a winter address, it’s Eagle River, a town of 1,500 nestled in the center of Wisconsin’s famous Northwoods.
It’s there that you’ll find a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Players, bundled up against the elements, race across an open sheet of ice, surrounded by acres of pristine white snow under a brilliant blue sky with a backdrop of evergreens.
It’s pond hockey, just as God had intended it to be played.
The canvas hasn’t changed much over the years, unless you count the additional rinks carved out of the snow on Dollar Lake to accommodate the ever-increasing number of players who make the pilgrimage to this makeshift hockey Mecca to participate in the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships.
For three frosty days in February, more than 2,400 adult hockey players from 30 states converge on the “snowmobile capital of the world” looking to rediscover simpler times, when the light in the sky was the only clock that mattered, when teams were chosen from of a pile of sticks and success was measured by how much fun you had with friends.
Out on the frozen field of recaptured dreams, a player’s skill level, age and occupation are irrelevant. Out here, all that matters is a passion for a game that exists in the hearts and minds of hockey enthusiasts of all ages and abilities.
And when the day is done, players find a seat inside the big tent, slowly sipping on a beer while peeling off layers of sweaty clothes along with the years that have passed since the last time their skates came in contact with natural ice.
Those memories are slowly stripped away and replaced by a new wave of images that will fuel the desire to return year after year.