Let's play (pond) hockey! Tournament starts Friday on Lake Nokomis

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Hockey is getting back to its roots.

The 10th annual U.S. Pond Hockey Championships kicks off this weekend, as about 250 teams battle across 25 make-shift rinks on Lake Nokomis for the coveted golden shovel.

ESPN has called the tourney one of the "101 things all sports fans must experience before they die" and Sports Illustrated says it's "perfect in every detail," the event notes.

This amateur tournament draws roughly 20,000 spectators and about 2,000 players – many of whom are former NHLers, played Division I hockey or had notable high school hockey careers.

And just like hockey as a kid, players from the two opposing teams shovel the rink before their game.

"[It's] hockey the way nature intended – outside in the elements during the absolute coldest time of year," founder Fred Haberman has said.

Luckily for fans and players alike, the forecast this year is cooperating, with little chance for snow and temperatures above normal for this time of year:

The pond hockey season got off to a slow start this season because of warm temperatures for much of December, but David Janowiec, head rink operations manager for the tournament, told WCCO earlier this month that the ice is about a foot thick and ready for competitors.

The tournament runs from Jan. 15-18. The warming house opens at 5 p.m. Thursday, with the first puck drop Friday morning and championship games on Sunday.

Planning to check it out this weekend? Find information on the tournament website or download the official smartphone app, which has schedules, scores and standings.

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