On the same day 105,491 hockey fans gathered in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the National Hockey League’s popular Winter Classic game, Oneonta hockey enthusiasts held their own version of the New Year’s Day game, thanks to a local man’s pond.
Dr. Carlton Rule said Oneonta’s lack of an ice rink almost kept him from moving to the area 20 years ago. Today, a regulation-size, indoor community rink still remains to be seen. But Rule, who grew up playing hockey in Rochester, said that hasn’t stopped him from enjoying his favorite pastime.
For the past 10 years, Rule said, he has invited friends and family to his home in Laurens, where a 200-foot-by-100-foot pond on his property serves as home base for the unofficial “Oneonta Hockey Association,” as they call themselves.
Rule said there is a lot of interest in ice hockey in the area, but the closest rink is the Chenango Ice Arena in Chenango Bridge. That’s why, he said, in the months of January and February, Rule invites friends and hockey enthusiasts to his pond every Saturday and Sunday to play, weather permitting.
The tight-knit group of hockey lovers includes high schoolers, college students and older individuals. Rule said the games spread through word of mouth, and a typical game could have anywhere from six to 18 participants.
More than 18 people gathered to play at the pond for “Oneonta’s Winter Classic” on Jan. 1. Rule said this is when the ice is ready to be played on.
Conditions have to be “just right” to play on the ice, according to Rule. If there is too much snow or it’s too warm out, he said, games are a no-go.
Rule said he has collected more than 40 pairs of skates for his guests to borrow or buy.
“Any time I go to a garage sale and see a pair,” he said, “I pick them up.”
Rule’s wife, Alisha, who said she stays inside and makes snacks and hot chocolate for the players, said her husband serves as a “human Zamboni,” shoveling the large pond each weekend to prepare for games. Rule said it takes about an hour to clear the pond, not taking into account the time it takes if the pond has to be flooded to create a smooth surface. Rule said a group of the players often helps him clear it off.
Rule’s son Griffin, 18, is one of the hockey lovers who participate in the weekly games.
“It’s nice that my son can play on a regulation-size rink,” Rule said.
According to NHL’s website, the dimensions of an “official” NHL rink are 200-foot-by-85-foot, meaning Rule’s “rink” is actually bigger. Most international hockey, including that of the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is played on a 200-foot-by-100-foot ice surface.
Todd Foreman is one of the regular players at Rule’s pond. Foreman, of Oneonta, said it means a lot to him that Rule hosts the ice hockey games because he gets to meet and skate with people he would not have known otherwise.
“Carl has a broad network of friends,” Foreman said. “It is very generous of him to make his pond available to them.”
Foreman said he takes care of the 100-foot-by-40-foot ice skating rink in Fortin Park. He said the park’s rink is open from dawn until 10 p.m. and is ideal for families, children and recreational open-skate, but not for a hockey game.
“It’s a nice place to learn how to skate or improve,” he said. “We can play three against three at the Fortin Park rink, but it is too small for an actual game.”
Rule said he has lights set up on his pond so the group can play after dark.
Between September and April, Rule said, a group consisting of himself and six other men travel to the Chenango Ice Arena about once a week to skate.
Rule said he believes an indoor rink would do a lot for the community of Oneonta.
“We hope someday there’ll be a large community rink here,” Rule said, “but until then, we’ll keep playing on my pond.”