The sounds emanating from Whitey’s Pond are familiar to any hockey player — skates carving up the ice, the puck hitting the boards, and people laughing and having a good time.
But there is something different here, almost a magic in the air as players of all ages experience something they never have before: the thrill of playing hockey outdoors.
Whitey’s Pond, which opened on Nov. 1 and is the newest addition to the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Md., isn’t the only outdoor ice sheet in Maryland, but it’s the first of its kind to be dedicated specifically
Clai Carr and Tom Hendrix, co-owners of the Gardens Ice House, decided years ago that they wanted to do something with a small area adjacent to their three-sheet facility. Everything from a swimming pool to a beach volleyball pit was on the table, but Carr and Hendrix, both transplants from the Northeast who grew up playing pond hockey, envisioned another rink where they could bring that joy to their hockey community.
“It’s an experience I think every child needs,” Hendrix says. “By having this opportunity with the kids, and being able to take the game outside does nothing but enrich the child in the game of hockey, and enrich them with a different life experience. They’ll look back one day and say, ‘I remember as a kid I did that.’”
In addition to the joy of playing hockey in the great outdoors, Whitey’s Pond will also serve as a new and exciting way to teach young players in the comfortable confines of a smaller sheet of ice. The pond measures 90 feet by 44 feet, which makes it comparable to the dimensions of the cross-ice playing surface that is now mandated by USA Hockey for all 8 & Under teams.
“It’s a relatively small surface, and they hope to use it as a hockey development rink for younger Mites,” says John Coleman, the president of the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association, which oversees amateur hockey in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“When you read some of [Wayne] Gretzky’s books, he always talks about what you learn in the backyard on the pond. I think this was Tom and Clai’s attempt to bring that to our area.”
Creating a fun environment where kids can discover a passion for the game is something that was embraced by Rolland “Whitey” Guenin, for whom the pond is named. A coach and long-time friend of Carr and Hendrix, Guenin believed that the unfettered fun that comes with playing shinny hockey. More than that, he saw it as an important part of a youngster’s social and physical development as they learn the basics of the game without adults always telling them what to do.
“People say the best basketball is taught on the playgrounds where they play half court, and with that you learn the game and a lot of different things,” Hendrix says.
“By having this opportunity with the kids, and being able to take the game outside does nothing but enrich the child in the game of hockey, and enrich them with a different life experience.”
—Tom Hendrix, co-owner of the Gardens Ice House
“It puts the joy of learning the game into perspective. It’s letting them be children and not always directing them what to do or what not to do. We’re there just to make sure it’s safe. They get out there, and they start playing, and they just want to play games. You can inject small amounts of learning into
The same holds true for big kids. The Gardens Ice House is home to the largest adult hockey league in the PVAHA, and Whitey’s Pond will be used for three-on-three adult tournaments. The instant intrigue of the pond has placed a high demand on its use, and it will also be open for public skates, drop in sessions and clinics, making the pond accessible to everyone in the local hockey community.
“I grew up in Massachusetts, so we always had skates over our shoulder and a stick in our hand walking over to a pond,” says Kevin McMahon, who plays in a senior league called the Geri Hatricks. “Whatever [pond] froze first, that’s the one you were on. This will be very popular here. It’s just getting going, but it will take off.”
On a crisp fall day in mid-November, Whitey’s Pond was bustling as the Geri Hatricks play a pick up game under the afternoon sun. A constant stream of kids with their parents stopped by to check out the new sheet of ice they hoped to be playing on soon.
“Everyone is in awe when they see it,” Hendrix says. “Most people in the hockey community here weren’t around hockey growing up where you had a pond like that in the backyard or you had a creek that froze.”
While it will be dependent on the air and ground temperature, Hendrix hopes to keep Whitey’s Pond open until mid-March. As temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic region creep to colder winter temperatures, the popularity of the pond and the unique experience it provides continues to grow.
“That’s what I’m hoping we get out of it,” Hendrix says. “A lot of fun, a lot of laughter and a lot of joy.”
Danielle Bernstein is a freelance writer based out of Baltimore.