If you’re in the market for some old-fashioned fun, you might considering watching some of the Red Lodge Winter Classic this weekend.
The four-on-four pond hockey tournament will run Friday through Sunday at the Red Lodge Ice Rink in Lions Park, just off Broadway Avenue on the north end of town.
The tourney is open to skaters of all ages and skill levels, the only pieces of equipment required are shin guards and helmets and there are no referees.
“It’s like pickup basketball,” Andy Simpson said. “If you trip someone, make sure they’re OK and give them the puck.”
Simpson and Nate Davis are co-presidents of Red Lodge Ice, the group that sponsors the tournament and maintains the ice rink. The city of Red Lodge bought the rubber rink liner and foot-high “boards” 10 or 11 years ago, mostly with money from the city’s so-called tourist tax.
Red Lodge Ice has purchased new liners every few years and its all-volunteer crews shovel the rink, flood it with a hose and otherwise maintain the premises. The tournament — with a suggested donation of $20 per player — is a fundraiser for the organization.
The rink is 180 feet long and 72 feet wide, close to National Hockey League standards of 200-by-80 feet. There are no goalies, and the goals are homemade metal contraptions with little targets on both ends. Games consist of two 15-minute halves.
Simpson said the first Winter Classic was last year and attracted six teams of seven players. This year there are six teams of eight players each, and Simpson said probably 90 percent of the players live in Red Lodge.
“It’s kind of surprising, the number of people who have started playing hockey in Red Lodge,” he said.
It would be fun to open the tournament up to out-of-town teams, Simpson said, but there’s so much interest locally that they really can’t have any more teams. After three games in one day, he said, the all-natural ice “gets pretty torn up.”
Simpson said he does his best to keep the teams even. He has a pretty good idea of everyone’s skill level, so he ranks them on a scale of 1 to 5 and then spreads them out among the teams. It’s also a rule that the winning team has to shovel the rink afterward.
“I figured that might level it out if the winners have to do it,” Simpson said.
About a fifth of the players this year are women, Simpson said, and the age range is roughly 17 to 55. There is no checking, and while there is no rule against slap shots, it’s a pretty useless shot when you’re trying to hit a tiny target low to the ice.
The team with the best record after four games wins. If there’s a tie, the number of goals scored comes into play.
“It’s not a hugely competitive tournament,” Simpson said. “So there’s no reason to have a championship game.”
The Red Lodge rink has introduction-to-hockey sessions on Tuesday nights, and on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning there are sessions for kids who want to learn something about hockey or figure skating, sponsored by the Boys and Girls club.
This year, temperatures and conditions have been great for making ice.
“There aren’t any huge cracks like there usually is,” Simpson said. “Usually there’s cracks you have to tell everybody about it.”
There is no charge to watch. Games will be played from 6 to 9 p.m Friday, 11:40 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 8 to 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.