The frozen waters of Ramsey Lake will be teeming with hockey enthusiasts of all ages this weekend as the 11th annual Pond Hockey Festival on the Rock kicks off Friday evening.
The festival has grown in size and scope in its more than a decade-long history, expanding from a hockey tournament in its infant stages, to a three-day family-friendly event.
This year's festival will include more than 70 teams of all ages that will be lacing up their skates and keeping the on-ice action going in front of the Northern Water Sports Centre from Friday at 5 p.m. until the finals on Sunday.
A team of around 150 volunteers have been working tirelessly to make sure the event is a memorable one for all those involved.
"Our goal is two-fold with this event; first we are raising money for charity, and second we want to make this a fun, family-friendly event," said Diane Ikonen, leadership team volunteer with the festival.
Each team raises money ahead of the festival and all the funds raised will go to Camp Quality this year, a free camp for children who are battling cancer. Since its inception, the pond hockey festival has raised around $160,000 for local charities.
A stretch of bitter cold weather has all but guaranteed that this weekend's event is all systems go, but that doesn't mean there haven't been challenges.
"The amount of snow we've had this year has made it very challenging," said Ikonen. "Candu Construction has been out clearing the ice for over a month now. Candu and a lot of other construction companies, along with the city of Greater Sudbury donate staff and equipment to make this fundraiser possible."
Three years ago, the Pond Hockey Festival on the Rock had to be cancelled because of weather conditions, and two years ago it was moved to James Jerome Sports Complex and was played on boots rather than skates.
"After we had to cancel it three years ago we said we'd always have a backup plan," said Ikonen. "If for whatever reason it can't go at Ramsey Lake, we'll have it on boots at Kivi Park this year."
The on-ice hockey action is just a portion of what's on offer over the course of the weekend, as the festival has something for everyone over the course of its three days.
There will be a number of raffle items that spectators and players can win, including a $4,000 Softub, an autographed Mike Foligno jersey, and tickets to an NHL hockey game. There's also facepainting and hot air balloon rides
Saturday night will feature a fireworks display over Ramsey Lake, and of course there will be food and hot beverages to warm up with inside the Northern Water Sports Centre.
Organizers expect a packed event as the weekend forecast is calling for some near-perfect pond hockey conditions with sunny skies and temperatures sitting near -12 C. Parking at the Northern Water Sports Centre is limited, but organizers have arranged for free shuttle service (donations are welcomed) from the York Street parking lot across from Bell Park to the event site.
"We're also inviting anyone who wants to come check out the festival to skate on over from the Ramsey Lake skating path," said Ikonen. "There will be signs pointing the way, but it's hard to miss it. We just advise that everyone dresses warm."
Check out the festival's full schedule online here.