The love of the game
January 16, 2020
SEELEY LAKE - "Montana, winter, pond hockey, love - That is what this is about," said Seeley Lake Pond Hockey player Brian Jon Zimmer as he walked off the ice following his last game Sunday, Jan. 12.
Player Holly Foster, an eight-year participant, added that Seeley Lake Pond Hockey has become their family's third major holiday along with Christmas and New Years.
Many other tournament veterans echoed their love of the tournament and offered accolades and appreciation for the work and dedication the Lindemer family and all the volunteers put in every January for the annual tournament.
Since its humble beginnings in 2010, the tournament has not only introduced Seeley Lake to hockey players from around the United States and exposed Seeley Lakers to hockey, it has also provided an economic boost to local businesses and raised more than $7,500 to help bring both young aspiring hockey players into the sport, as well as increase resources to allow our local grade school to better access kinetic sports. While the tournament continues to make improvements every year to better accommodate players and spectators, Mother Nature has always been the wild card and volunteers have been the key to making it happen.
According to tournament co-founder Mike Lindemer, the first Seeley Lake Pond Hockey tournament was in January 2010. Lindemer and Tom Monaghan, both avid hockey players, wanted to introduce a new crowd to the beauty of Seeley Lake, introduce hockey to Seeley Lakers and boost the economy.
The first Seeley Lake Pond Hockey tournament reported by the Seeley Swan Pathfinder was in 2011. There were 11 teams for the two-day tournament. Winners Doug Swain, Tim Devos, Chris Newman, Brett Cunniff and Kory Burgess of "Sofa King Lazy" were the first to have their names on the Annual Seeley Cup.
The tournament doubled in 2012 with 24 teams and peaked in 2014 hosting 48 teams. The 2019 tournament was the first time less than 40 teams participated since 2014. This year there were 33 teams.
In 2015, there were 47 teams totaling 296 players at the tournament. Of the roughly 400 folks who had the opportunity to respond to a survey provided by tournament organizers to quantify the local economic impact of the tournament, 47 filled out the survey.
Survey results showed that the average stay in Seeley Lake was 1.9 nights with the average number of people in a group was 7.1. The average group age was between 35 and 44-years-old. The average amount of money spent per player in town, excluding registration fees, was $400 totaling $118,400. This excluded their family and friends that many brought with them for the weekend.
In 2016, Seeley Lake Pond Hockey teamed up with Sportsengin to bring up-to-date information about registration, tournament scheduling and results available on the website they launched in 2015. Until then, Monaghan created the schedule and posted the scores by hand.
"The advance in technology has been the biggest change that has helped organize the tournament, provided schedule online so people can access it and has saved a lot of time," said Tournament Organizer Megan Lindemer.
The final big change to tournament organization came in 2019 when the B Division was split into Competitive and Intermediate to better accommodate the skill level of the players. This created five divisions, instead of the traditional four.
Over the years the tournament had its own Seeley Lake Pond Hockey Ale, hosted the Missoula Maulers to skate with local youth on the rinks and held youth games during the tournament. Organizers have also hosted golf tournaments in the summer and a Sasquatch Fat Tire mountain bike race later in the winter to draw participants back to Seeley.
Mike said creating good ice for the tournament has been the biggest challenge over the years. He puts hundreds of hours on his four-wheeler each year grooming the ice. The tournament has never been canceled due to weather, "and for that I'm thankful," said Mike.
In 2017, due to sub-zero temperatures Saturday morning, games were delayed two hours but all games were completed. Volunteers were given hand warmers to keep the stop watches and cell phones operational.
In 2018, a dump of more than 30 inches of snow between Christmas and New Years made the perfectly manicured ice nearly unmanageable. Mike, Ice Dawg Mark Kues and Shane Lindemer removed the slush and spent five days spraying the rinks with water.
While the rinks held up for Friday, by Saturday warm temperatures and wear on the surface broke through the layer of ice into the layer of slush. For the first time organizers made the call for safety and players traded their skates for boots for Sunday's championship games.
This year, the ice conditions were slush without good ice. On Jan. 2 Mike's four-wheeler went through the ice. They recovered the four-wheeler and were able to create three small rinks. One was shut down Sunday due to slush.
"Mother Nature was a little fickle but she pulled through," said Lindemer. "That is why they call it 'pond' hockey."
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Kylie Paul of Missoula has been the captain for Soft Dump in the Corner for the past nine years. She said every year is a different game with the ice conditions. This year she said it seemed like the tournament was smaller but "it was still wicked fun."
Paul enjoys putting together a team of Missoula players with whom she doesn't normally play. But what keeps her coming back is the atmosphere of the tournament created by the wood fire changing tents, playing outdoors and the traditions that have been made over the years. She pointed to a cabin on the lake that hosts a bonfire during the tournament. She said everyone goes to the Filling Station for karaoke Friday night and meets for breakfast and Bloody Marys at the Chicken Coop.
Owner of The Filling Station Kris Martin said the Pond Hockey tournament gets better and better. She has sponsored the event since she was first approached in the first few years of the tournament.
"Mike Lindemer is excited about hockey and look at all he has brought to Seeley for hockey," said Martin. "Things like that don't happen unless someone is interested in doing it. And when someone gets behind something like this, they don't let it fail."
She said sponsoring the event and welcoming participants is good for business. She also enjoys telling people about it so they go down and check it out. She feels it may be one more reason for them to return to Seeley Lake.
The Seeley Lake Chicken Coop has also sponsored the tournament for years and this year sponsored a team that won the Intermediate Division. Chicken Coop General Manager Casie Landsberger added, "I think it makes a for a great, busy weekend in the middle of winter. Everyone that comes to the tournament is very enjoyable and we enjoy seeing all the teams coming back every year."
Player Jeff Moore from Bozeman said he is just so appreciative of what Mike, Megan and Lindey's does to host the tournament.
"The community that they are building is really a regional development of hockey culture that hasn't traditionally existed," said Moore. "This is the best hockey tournament in the state."
Scott Eggeman, one of the few local players, has participated in the tournament for the past nine years.
"This is to celebrate hockey, bring attention to Seeley and get people to come up and spend money here locally," said Eggeman.
While he agrees the tournament is great exposure for hockey in Seeley Lake, he feels the Seeley Lake ROCKS Community Ice Rink at Seeley Lake Elementary school is the catalyst to encourage youth skating and hockey.
Funds raised from this year's tournament will help ROCKS meet the match for the Missoula County grant for the Community Ice Rink. Mike said ROCKS volunteers were instrumental in helping make this year's Pond Hockey Tournament possible.
Megan added, "We do this so people can come up here and have a good time and spend money in Seeley Lake and play hockey."
2020 Annual Seeley Cup winners
Cup Division - TEAM YMV: Bill Shropshire, Will Parr, Justin Kennedy, Wade Juntunen, Theo Campe and Chris Edmunds
Competitive Division - THE MIGHTY MERKINS: Jason Anderson, Jacob Barron, Scott Siebert, Branden Amatto, Christopher Keck and Lindsay Gorrill
Intermediate Division - CHICKEN COOP ALL-STARS: Jeremiah Buckles, Casey Rendall, Lee Nagle, David Scoville, Matt Scoville and Troy Sorenson
Co-Rec Division - FROSTY BOXES (abbreviated): Craig Foddrill, Holly Colbert, Will Grossman, CJ Fisher, Berkley Svignen and Ashley Parks
Women's Division - TAMPOND HOCKEY: Emilly Dillow, Margie Kinnersley, Sperry DesRosier, Karen Smith, Sarah Coefield and Kendra Kezur
Golden Shovel Award - WE'RE SPARE PARTS BUD: Adam Breen, Christian Goss, Ben Jimenez and Josh Nowak.