By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
LAKE WASHINGTON — Snappy “cracks” popped from the heels of hockey sticks slapping rubber pucks. Solid “thunks” followed when that rubber hit, and scuffed, brand new plastic pond hockey boards. Frozen swishes sprayed off sharpened skate blades sliding sideways across hard ice.
All those sounds, along with orders to “shoot,” “skate faster” and “pass the puck” echoed across the southwest bay of Lake Washington Saturday during the Anthony Ford Memorial Pond Hockey Tournament.
Robin Ford was smiling as she took a break to warm up, something that couldn’t happen last year because warm weather kept the tournament from happening.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “The weather’s good and everyone is having fun.”
The annual event, which started with six rinks in 2009, was created by Robin Ford and her husband, Michael, as a way to raise funds for the Anthony Ford Foundation. The foundation was set up to honor their son.
Anthony died in 2006 after battling a rare form of leukemia, but not before the 9-year-old boy inspired an entire community with his love for life and hockey.
Proceeds from the hockey tournament provide youth hockey scholarships for area kids in need. They also help fund an organization called Therapeutic Advances in Childhood Leukemia.
Anthony played hockey with the Mankato Area Hockey Association before his disease forced him off the ice. The Fords considered annual youth hockey tournaments as a fundraiser, but decided instead that they wanted an event that could be enjoyed by all hockey enthusiasts.
That plan has been a draw for the Borchardt family. Todd Borchardt’s son, Brett, was playing in a kids tournament and his older son, Bo, a Mankato East Cougar hockey alumnus, joined Todd to watch.
“The great thing about it is it’s something kids from the past can come back and play in,” Todd Borchardt said. “It’s just a fun day to hang out and play hockey.”
Todd and Bo didn’t have their skates on Saturday, but Todd said he has played in previous adult tournaments. It’s also a good thing for the younger players to see older guys they know outside on the ice having fun, he added. That way they learn that hockey is a sport that can be enjoyed for years.
Next year’s tournament has already been set for Jan. 25, but Ford said “the dream” is to eventually spread the games across two days. That would allow for an adult tournament one day and a kids tournament the other day. It would also mean a lot more work. This year there were about 50 volunteers helping out.
“There’s a lot of logistics that we would have to figure out,” she said.
This year’s tournament took a big step forward with the addition of 12 sets of plastic pond hockey boards. During previous tournaments snow was used to create boarders around the miniature rinks scattered across the bay outside Westwood Marina.
This year temperatures cooperated by creating a thick coat of ice across the lake, but Mother Nature hasn’t been as generous with the snow. So without the new boards there is a chance the tournament could have been canceled again, Ford said.
“We’ve heard a lot of positive comments that everyone loves the boards,” she said. “It brings a more professional atmosphere to the tournament.”
Cheryl Oltman’s sons — Sam, 8, and Caden, 10 — are about the age Anthony Ford was when he died. Caden played in the tournament two years ago and had a blast, so Oltman sent out an email to all the hockey parents she knew to help organize four teams for this year’s tournament.
When the event started five years ago, many of the younger players knew Anthony because they hung out with him at All Seasons Arena and at Minnesota State University hockey games. The only way the Oltmans know about Anthony is through information that’s provided through the foundation.
Robin Ford said that’s a good thing. Remembering Anthony — what he did during his short life and his love for hockey — is an additional benefit that comes from the annual tournament.
“We’re hoping that Anthony’s memory stays alive, everyone remembers what a kind person he was and that he had a love for the game of hockey,” she said.
More information about the annual event can be found at www.anthonyford99.com.