Pond hockey attracts passionate fans

When the Thursday night "boys of winter" from Larchmont, N.Y., got wind of the chance to star in their own miracle on ice, they jumped for their sticks and skates. After all, where else can a bunch of 30- and 40-something lawyers and stock traders feel like kids again?

"I love the game," says team captain Peter Beshar. "There's no time that I'm happier than when I'm on a frozen pond."

In Canada, there are pond rinks aplenty — 24 of them in tiny Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, site of the fourth annual World Pond Hockey Championships. The "Larchmont Lightning" and 95 other hopeful teams compete in a tournament with no bulky pads, no goalies and no commercial breaks. It's just four-on-four hockey for 30 minutes in the frigid fresh air.

In just their first year of competing, the Lightning strikes, winning five games in a row. But can they go all the way?

While interest in professional hockey has been in decline, pond hockey is a completely different phenomenon. It's old-time hockey, and teams from around the world are lining up for the chance to say they've played Plaster Rock. It's "game on!" day and night.

"This is what the hockey is that we all fell in love with," says Sports Illustrated writer E.M. Swift. "It's not whatever's happening in the National Hockey League."

Or as the rink announcer says: "This is world-class hockey for the working-class man!"

But even old-time hockey has its perils. Captain Beshar takes a puck to the face, giving him a bloody nose and ribbing from his teammates.

As temperatures drop to minus 40, competition heats up and the Lightning makes it to the quarterfinals. They came to play but fall short, losing 17-7.

This year's champs? The Boston Danglers, repeat winners, who raise a wooden replica of the Stanley Cup.

"It's not about winning, it's about the experience, the camaraderie that develops, the friendships they make," says tournament organizer Danny Braun.

"[It was] just a magical weekend for all of us," says Peter Beshar.

A magical weekend that ends with teams dreaming of chasing the magic again next year "on frozen pond."