Back to basics:

🕔Dec 07, 2010

In 1931, a rag-tag group of aboriginal hockey players from Alkali Lake made their way to Prince George to challenge the local reigning champions for the Northern BC League title. Their win (by only one point) on the chilly outdoor rink earned the team an invitation to play an all-star commercial team in the shiny new Vancouver Forum.

Just a year or two earlier, this bunch of upstart unknowns had so little funding that they often slept in their horse-drawn wagon beside whatever rink they had travelled to. Underfed and underestimated, their stamina and determination won them more than games. Several Cariboo businessmen took notice, and took them under their wings. The team soon found itself organized, in uniform, on a winning streak—and headed for Vancouver.

Not only had they never played indoors, or against this level of competition, most of the players had never been anywhere like Vancouver before. They showed their stuff in two thrilling games before a crowd of 4,000 and, to almost everyone’s surprise, lost each by only one point. Their star player, Alex Antoine, was even offered a position with the New York Rangers in the new NHL. For whatever reason, he turned it down, choosing to return to “a good job” at the Alkali Lake Ranch at $15 per week.

On the pond again
Now, 80 years later, the Canadian tradition of pond hockey (or “shinny,” as you might’ve called it) is returning to Prince George. Players of all ages and skill levels will lace up for the inaugural Northern Regional Pond Hockey Championships January 14-16 this winter. It will be the second of three events in a provincial series that will also feature a rotating provincial championship.

With such a rich history of hockey on outdoor rinks, Prince George’s pond hockey event at West Lake Provincial Park is sure to become a regular fixture in the area’s winter sports scene, and will certainly add to the anticipation of the Canada Winter Games, scheduled to be held in the region in 2015.

Players are encouraged to act quickly to experience this one-of-a-kind event that takes you back to playing on backyard rinks and frozen ponds. There are slots for just 100 teams on a first-come, first-served basis, and registration is already open at

The event is open to men and women, and the only criteria for registration are a minimum age of 19 and a passion for the game. Teams can be four to six persons, and two divisions are offered—recreational and championship—so there’s something for everyone.

A refreshing return
So what’s the fuss about pond hockey? Whether you call it shinny, pick-up hockey or street hockey, pond hockey takes us back to the innocence of youth; the fresh air of a winter afternoon and time spent with friends on an outdoor rink. In an era of binding arbitration, free agents, multi-million dollar contracts and product endorsements, it’s a refreshing return to the roots and traditions of hockey and the history of the old Northern BC League.

The appeal is also captured in the simple flowing nature of the game. Pond Hockey rinks are about 75 percent the size of an NHL rink, and the cleared snow from a frozen lake acts as the ‘boards.’ The goal is usually only ankle-high and there are no goalies, so the emphasis of the game shifts heavily to skating, stick-handling and finesse. With no offsides and no icing calls, the action rarely stops, making the 30-minute games enough to tire out most four-person teams.

Physical contact is discouraged, which means equipment can be kept very basic: just a stick, a helmet, skates and maybe shin pads will get you out on the ice. Of course, most teams don’t stop there, as team spirit goes a long way to making the event a success. Players show up in all sorts of crazy costumes and wigs, undoubtedly in an attempt to intimidate the other teams, or distract them with laughter, adding greatly to the entertainment value for spectators. The simpler rules and large outdoor playing surface also make it a great spectator sport.

Pond hockey’s future
John Reed, the visionary behind the series and the director of Adventure Architects, has big plans for Pond Hockey in BC. “The great thing about the design of the series is that each partner community will host an annual tournament, and the provincial championships will take place every two years with the hosting rotating among the partner communities.”

Winning teams from Prince George will earn entries to the Western Regional Pond Hockey Championships in late January, in the mountain resort community of Rossland, where the series originated. The Championships happen during Rossland’s Winter Carnival, making it a worthwhile destination event.

For Prince George, it’s an opportunity to showcase its wild and natural setting and further establish the region as an ideal destination for sports and adventure tourism. Of course, the event will provide a healthy economic impact on the area, with teams likely travelling some distance to be part of the fun, just as the Alkali Lake team did in its day. And, like the Alkali Lake team, we just might discover some incredible new hidden talent from the region.

Event organizer Reed wouldn’t disclose whether NHL scouts have been invited, but let’s hope that this time, if a player is offered a shot at the NHL, he or she gives it a bit more consideration than Alex Antoine did. Who knows what might have been…?

Ice Champs

Northern Regional Pond Hockey Championships
Prince George, BC
January 14-16, 2011
Competitive and Recreational divisions
Maximum team size: 6 people (4 on ice at one time)
Team entry: $400

More info at