Games draw winter sports enthusiasts to Fairmont

FAIRMONT – Despite a short wave of warmer temperatures Friday, the Southern Minnesota Pond Hockey tournament and Icekahana managed to carry on this weekend.

“We did have to cancel the Friday night skate,” said Oliver Kollofski, one of the organizers of the pond hockey tournament, on Friday afternoon. “But the temperatures are supposed to drop overnight, and play begins at 9 a.m., so we have eight hours to freeze.”

On Friday there were about two inches of water on top of the ice after rain moved into the area Thursday and Friday.

“It’s not ideal,” Kollofski said. “But we have quite a few teams coming, and it’s supposed to be even better on Sunday, when it won’t be as windy. So we will push on, even if it means pushing our Saturday start time back by a few hours.”

As it turned out, the temperature drop was significant enough that the rest of the weekend’s activities for both the pond hockey tournament and the Blizzard Snowmobile Club’s Icekahana to carry on as originally scheduled.

More than 60 kids, ages 8 and under, competed in the Mite Competition, according to Kelly Artz, one of the other pond hockey tournament organizers.

“We have a group of 24 youth from Luverne and about a dozen from Okoboji. Several of the adult teams that have been here the past two years have returned, so it’s exciting to have the other towns here and having teams returning,” he said.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s Icekahana events were mainly between members of the area Blizzard Snowmobile Club, with a vintage snowmobile competition that came down between family members.

“It ended up being a father/daughter competition,” said Brent Wallace of the Fairmont Blizzard Snowmobile Club. “I think at the end, the daughter managed to edge him out.”

The main action for the Icekahana was the speed runs on Sunday.

“We’ve been busy with an hour to go for registrations,” Wallace said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of sleds.

Organizers Rohman Johnson and Brent Oberdieck were also busy keeping tabs on the speed runs.

“So far, our top speed has been 126,” Oberdieck said. “We’re also starting to see more spectators.”

The two big events both take place at Gomsrud Park, they remain separate.

“It seems to be two different interest groups,” Wallace said when asked if the pond hockey tournament has had any effect on Icekahana participation. “You got your motor-heads over here and the athletes over there.”

But the two groups have the common bond of relying on the colder temperatures for a successful event.

“The attendance has been phenomenal,” said Jim Head, a pond hockey participant from Fairmont. “We saw a lot of out-of-town teams, and the concession tent is doing well.”

“We’re near a record with the concession stands, and that’s where we make our money,” Artz agreed. “We really appreciate the support. Some non-hockey people have come out as spectators. The kids are having a blast – you can see it on their faces. They had their creative costume contest, and it’s more about that, the spirit of the game and not about winning. A lot of these hockey kids will play lots of games this year that are a lot alike, but they’re going to remember this one.

“And for some of the adults, this takes them back to their childhoods for the weekend because this was how they grew up playing: fighting the elements to play the game you love.”