EAGLE RIVER, Wis. - Four local teams sponsored by River Valley Bank played in four different age groups at the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships over the weekend, and came home with four championships.
"It's amazing that these guys were able to run the table like that," said Brian Donnelly, River Valley Bank Calumet branch manager. "It's just further demonstration of the hockey pedigree that's all around us in the Copper Country."
The tournament featured 346 teams and more than 2,000 players from 30 states, playing in 18 different divisions on 28 rinks on Dollar Lake in Eagle River, Wis. Altogether, six Houghton County teams and one from L'Anse made the trek, and finished with a 25-4 combined record.
The River Valley Huskies won the Silver 30-plus championship with a 9-7 win over Puck Hawgs.
"Being that this was our first year playing, it took us a good part of the first game to figure out what we were doing. It's a different style of hockey and can be very strategic," captain Ryan DeForge said.
"Once we figured it out, I say we did pretty well. The whole experience was great and something every hockey player and fan should experience once."
The River Valley Sharks in the 40-plus Tier 1 group had already experienced the tournament once, but came back with a sour taste after finishing second last year. This year they beat Flying W 17-14 in the championship game.
"Last year was a learning experience for us and being the only (local) team that didn't bring home a championship was very disappointing to us," captain Lee DeForge said. "We had a year to dwell on it and our attitude this year was there is no way we're going to be denied. We all worked and played very hard and it paid off."
The River Valley Pioneers won the 50-plus Tier 1 championship for the third straight year with a 7-6 win over Ford, which is captained by Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford, Jr.
"Bill Ford, Jr. is a great guy with a lot of respect for the U.P. teams," Pioneers team member Ducky Maki said. "He's a regular guy that loves to play hockey."
Monte Carlo/River Valley won the 60-plus championship for the second straight year with an 8-3 win over Viagra Falls Flyers.
"All in all it was a great weekend," captain Bob Perreault said. "For me personally I played senior hockey with the Eagle River Falcons during the mid-'70s, so it's always great to go back and see old friends."
In addition to River Valley Bank's sponsorship, the teams represented the Copper Country Oldtimers Hockey League, which will continue regular season play every Sunday leading up to its own local 30-team tournament, the 30th annual Copper Country Oldtimers Tournament on the weekend of March 17.
For full results from the Pond Hockey Championships, visit usahockey.com and click on "Pond Hockey Championships" under the "Adult" section of the "Players" tab.