On Saturday, Jan. 4, hockey enthusiasts gathered in Virginia City for the town’s first formal pond hockey tournament. The competing eight teams traveled from around Madison County, Bozeman and Big Sky to strap on their skates and attend the event.
Virginia City resident Scott Kelley was the primary organizer of the tournament. According to Kelley, the town’s ice rink has been “revamped” through volunteer efforts and fundraisers.
“Last year we started having an informal men’s league—well, people’s league—we have some really good women too,” Kelley said. “We have just seen a huge increase in use up at the rink.”
The competing teams played by shortened pond hockey rules—four-on-four with two 12-minute halves. Since pond hockey is played without goalies, the regulation goal is blocked off with only two approximately six-inch openings in both corners.
Volunteer Justin Gatewood opened the event reminding the teams of the rules.
“No goal tending, no quasi goal tending, no checking and no fighting unless it is going to be a really good fight,” Gatewood joked. “Then we will allow it.”
The first game commenced shortly after 10 a.m. when two Madison County teams went head to head. The Virginia City-based Vigilantes bested another Madison County team—the Boothill Boys—to advance in the standings. Next, Willie’s Distillery took on the Pigeons out of Big Sky, falling short after a hard fought game.
Also competing in the tournament were teams Hot Garbage from Bozeman, the Blizzards out of Big Sky, the Yellowstone Trappers from Bozeman and the Gold diggers from Bozeman.
“It was really great, we had a good turnout,” Willie Blazer with Willie’s Distillery said of the tournament. “Honestly we were surprised a little about how many teams were there and I just think it is going to keep growing and getting bigger.”
According to Blazer, out of the eight players for Willie’s Distillery, only four or five were experienced skaters who knew hockey.
“The guys who knew how to skate and knew how to play hockey got to get out there and have fun, but it was good for the beginners too,” he said.
After a full day on the rink, the tournament boiled down to a championship match up between the Yellowstone Trappers and the Pigeons. The sun set in Virginia City before the game started and the teams battled it out under the outdoor rink’s lights.
The Pigeons were short a player so Kelley’s 9-year-old son Bo Kelley stood in to help. B. Kelley said the championship was probably the “craziest” game he has ever played in, but he was not too nervous because he has been skating since he was 2 years old.
“It was intimidating but really cool, really fun,” B. Kelley said about playing in the championship. “I wanted to play really bad and I did it because there was not a kid’s team… I am really looking forward to it next year.”
“[B. Kelley] playing in the championship was really the spirit of the whole deal,” S. Kelley said about his son’s involvement. “It was great of the [Pigeons] to let him join… we had kids, women, 60 year old men and everyone in between out there.”
It is S. Kelley’s hope that the tournament raised the rink’s profile—more attention for the facility would help the Kelley family and other volunteers continue developing the rink into a well-rounded winter sports facility.
“Every single one of the teams wants to play again next year,” S. Kelley said. “I think it exceeded most everyone’s expectations. Anytime you do something for the first time you do not know what will happen—with this we did well.”