While the Gustavus women’s hockey team looked back on a weekend sweep of St. Catherine, Gustavus alumni Laura Vannelli `08, Jessie Doig `09, and Liz Haakenson `09 were hard at work on the ice at the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships (USPHC) held Jan. 20-22 on Lake Nakomis in Minneapolis. The three Gusties were a part the Top Shelf Tricks, a pond hockey team comprised of former collegiate skaters from the greater Twin Cities area. After five games and leaving their blood, sweat, and tears (tears of laughter that is), the Top Shelf Tricks found themselves champions of the Women’s Division at the USPHC. According to Jessie Doig, “It’s nice to have an event like this that showcases pickup hockey, when pressure is off and you just get to have fun.”
This was the seventh annual U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, all of which have been held at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis except for the first, which took place on Lake Calhoun. Fred Haberman came up with the idea of a national pond hockey tournament back in 2005. In 2010, Haberman handed the tournament over to hockey enthusiasts Justin Kaufenberg, Carson Kipfer and TST Media. Kaufenberg and Kipfer started TST Media and the company has grown into a successful web software company that empowers thousands of sports organizations, events and businesses. The group wanted to continue Haberman’s vision of hockey being played “the way nature intended.”
The culture of pond hockey is not a complicated one. The tournament is a fun, competitive event for people to enjoy and participate in. Pond hockey enthusiasts play on frozen ponds in their back yards, on neighborhood creeks or in local parks. Old time enthusiasts are known to clear the great spaces of ice with shovels, use magazines and duct tape to guard their shins. Wooden boards with small holes serve as goals to eliminate the need for a goalie. There were no parents to berate kids, no coaches strategizing against opponents, no fans yelling at officials. As Doig says, “In pond hockey, you just play. There isn’t a game plan you just play hard and be creative with the puck.”
Liz Haakenson added when reflecting on the busy Sunday, “The best part of the day was that it was all about hockey, pick up hockey…the best kind of hockey all around. [There was] no coach to yell at us or get us motivated. We were already motivated and every one of us wanted to be there from the get-go.
At this year’s tournament, up to eight people could be on a team’s roster with four on the ice playing at a time. The 2012 event had roughly 2,000 players compete on 26 rinks. Forty different states were represented as well as six different countries.When it came to putting the team together, the only requirement was just a passion for hockey. According to Doig, “The team basically came together with co-workers and a few friends from the MIAC community and through our Gustavus connections.”
Haakenson added, “We chose people we worked with and from there added people we knew who would work hard and have a good time.” The team gathered for a happy hour to get to know one another. From there, the Top Shelf Tricks were born. Other members who competed on the team included Marie Omann, a University of St. Thomas graduate and former adversary of the three Gusties, and University of Minnesota grads Allie Sanchez and Krista Johnson. As Doig mentioned in a chuckle, three Gusties, a Tommie and a pair of Gophers came together on Lake Nakomis.
Championship Sunday started with an 11-4 victory against TRIA. However, the team lost one of its members due to the flu and was down to six players for the rest of the tournament. After wins in their second and third games, the team began to hit a wall. According to Haakenson, “After our third game we were dragging, but we ate a lot of beef jerky to get some energy back.”
The Top Shelf Tricks met the Eau Claire Gong Show in the championship game. Facing a team of eight Eau Claire grads, Haakenson explained the strategy was “to keep the puck in their end, ice if it possible, and have one girl chase. We were able to keep a strong diamond against their offense and their cherry picker.” The result was a 12-6 victory and the right to etch “Top Shelf Tricks” into the coveted Golden Shovel.
At the end of the day, both Doig and Haakenson reflected on how brutal the day was. Doig said, “I’ve never been more exhausted than I was on Sunday evening” and Haakenson stated, “We will all be feeling the soreness for at least another week.” However, the event was all worth it for participating team members, as Haakenson stated, “I cannot wait until next year!” Who knows, perhaps the Top Shelf Tricks can repeat as champions in the Women’s Division at the 2013 U.S. Pond Hockey Championships.
Laura Vannelli (2004-08), Jessie Doig (2005-09), and Liz Haakenson (2005-07) played together for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. Haakenson decided to hang up the skates following her sophomore year, while Vannelli and Doig both went on to earn four letters under Head Coach Mike Carroll. Over the span of five seasons in which these three Gusties donned the Three Crowns, the Gustavus women’s hockey team went a combined 119-17-7 (.857) overall and 85-2-3 in the MIAC (.961). The Gusties claimed MIAC regular season and playoff titles in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Vannelli played in a total of 111 games and scored 42 points (21G, 21A), Doig played in 111 games and scored 81 points (41G, 40A), and Haakenson played in 56 games and tallied 26 points (3G, 23A). Vannelli, originally from Eagan, Minn., graduated with a degree in sociology. She went on to get her J.D. from the University of Minnesota and now works as an attorney in Rochester, Minn. Doig, a New Prague, Minn. native, graduated with a degree in english, and Haakenson, a native of Moorhead, Minn., earned a degree in business management. Both Jessica and Liz work in sales for TST Media located in Minneapolis.