The countdown is on for the 2nd Annual Crystal Cup Pond Hockey Challenge in Fort St. John on Feb. 8 – 11, and the south end of Charlie Lake is in the midst of some big changes as organizers prep the ice for the growing outdoor hockey tournament.
Neil Evans, chief executive officer of the Crystal Cup, and his group of organizers have been out on Charlie Lake for the past four weeks, dealing with the winter’s record snowfall.
“I was worried, generally worried about the amount of snow on the lake and the size of equipment we could get out there,” Evans said. “We managed to find a guy with a loader from Wayland Industries. We approached a few other companies and got three front-end loaders out here to start the cleanup, which was about two feet of very packed snow.”
“Every weekend what we’ve done is try to come out every Saturday morning, get as much snow clearing as we can done if the weather’s right and try to flood the same day or the following day.”
Eight volunteer firefighters from the Charlie Lake Fire Department were out on the lake with hoses, flooding the area on Saturday to create the best ice as possible for the Crystal Cup. The fire department got on board with the event last year, helping pump warm water onto the ice for the best results.
It’s not easy to maintain, however, as unpredictable weather conditions can take its toll on the ice, as it has in the past.
“We want the ice to be really good this year,” Evans said. “What happened last year is it was really, really warm then got really cold so it fractured the ice quite a bit. A lot of the guys were complaining about the ice. This year we’re going to try the best we can to accommodate.”
“I haven’t seen the forecast yet, I’m praying to God it looks nothing like last year,” he added laughing.
Last year, the temperature “took a turn” from plus-5 to -40 from Friday to Sunday, with 70 km winds shutting down the site for the day.
“The weather turned, it was unreal,” Evans said. “It just dropped like crazy.”
To prevent high winds from wreaking havoc on the event, Evans and his organizers have switched things up a bit this year.
“Last year we had the shelters at [the south end] and the north wind got us bad, so we put them on the other end this time to block the wind for the kids if it picks up,” explained Jamie Osterlund, energy executive.
There’s also a bigger shelter for the kids rink, and eight main hockey rinks on the north-east end of the site, with a larger public skating area as well as concessions and beer gardens.
This year registration is open to 60 teams, as the popularity of the event has exploded since its introduction last winter. Although only a handful of teams have registered, Evans knows how the Peace Region works, and has already had interest from the U.S. and even as far as Australia.
“It’s such a last minute town,” he said laughing. “What happened last year is we had 20 teams register on the final day. We have no idea if we’ll max out at the 60-mark until the last minute. It’ll literally come down to the wire again.”
On Friday a Zamboni will be brought down to the site for the organizing team to “practice” with, and if it snows in the meantime there will be more removal, grooming and another flooding. Boards will be built around the rinks, tents will go up and shelters will pop-up, transforming the flats of Charlie Lake into a miniature, hockey-centric boomtown for the weekend.
All that’s left is “making it pretty” and getting teams to register, Evans said.
Registration for teams ends Jan. 31 at 10 p.m. local time. There will also be a Crystal Cup Social Night on Feb. 8 at the Lido Theatre to kick off the event.
Information on how to register for the event is available online at the Crystal Cup website.