In a hockey-crazed state like Michigan, there’s nothing like the annual Labatt Blue UP Pond Hockey Championship in St. Ignace. If you love hockey, this is a must-attend, must-see event where upward of 200 hockey teams compete for hardware on the thick ice of the Upper Peninsula.
If you want to play in or attend the annual tournament on Feb. 17-20, 2022, here’s everything you need to know about getting to, staying in, and having fun around St. Ignace.
Labatt Blue UP Pond Hockey Championship
The tournament began in 2007. For almost 200 teams making the journey up north to participate in the games on St. Ignace’s Moran Bay, the weekend is all about having sticks, pucks, and dreams. Even if you’re not playing, the weekend is as much of a thrill as it is for players.
The pond hockey tournament features 4-on-4 games with no goalie across divisions that range from youth to adult. Rinks measure 75-by-150 feet, and every player must brave whatever elements come their way, including cold and snow.
The UP pond hockey championship affords players of all ages the chance to get their hockey fix by playing games on ice that’s 17 inches thick. It offers a chance for bragging rights and some huge trophies.
A Massive Turnout
For dozens of the participants, young and old, hockey is in their DNA. Many of them grew up playing pond hockey, and this is the perfect event to rekindle those memories of simpler times.
In 2019 alone, 1,200 players converged on Lake Huron’s Moran Bay to participate in the tournament, which spreads out across multiple divisions on 30 rinks. In 2019, championships were crowned across six divisions.
The 2021 tournament was canceled, so the tournament on February 17-20, 2022 could see even bigger numbers of both players and spectators.
From Locals to Foreigners
Ice hockey is a popular winter sport in Michigan, so the tournament draws a fair number of local teams. But make no mistake, the annual pond hockey tournament is an event that draws amateur hockey players from across the nation and around the world.
During more than 350 action-packed games, the tournament draws players from multiple states, including Ohio, Colorado, Montana, New York, and Kentucky, as well as from overseas.
Over the years, the tournament has had some special visitors too. Members of the Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association regularly make the trek to St. Ignace to participate in one of the marquee events at Little Bear East Arena.
Though the roster has changed here and there over the years, past stars like Joe Kocur, Darren McCarty, and John Orgrodnick have made appearances. Participating tournament teams bid for the chance to play the Red Wings, but admission to the game is free.
More Winter Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula
There’s plenty of excitement to be had if you’re participating or watching the Labatt Blue UP Pond Hockey Championship. But there are also lots of other fun winter activities to do in the Upper Peninsula, especially around St. Ignace, if you’re planning to stay a while.
If you love being outdoors, try some Upper Peninsula snowmobiling. St. Ignace is actually the beginning of hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails, so it’s the perfect place to start an adventure. There are plenty of places to rent a snowmobile.
If snowmobiling isn’t your thing, give skiing a try, especially cross-country skiing in the Upper Peninsula. On a trip to St. Ignace, you could see some really majestic scenery during the Michigan winter months.
Take the Sand Dune Cross Country Ski Trail to see views of the Lake Michigan sand dunes. If you’re looking for other trails, try the North Country Trail, which starts in downtown St. Ignace and heads into the Hiawatha National Forest where you can see three Great Lakes shorelines.
If you’re itching to do some ice skating in the Upper Peninsula after watching pond hockey, head to Little Bear East Arena, where you can hit the ice for an open skate. You can rent skates, or get your own skates sharpened.
Tobogganing & Snow Tubing
In the wintertime, Upper Peninsula sledding and tobogganing never goes out of style, and St. Ignace has the perfect sledding spot.
If you want to do some sledding, head to Doc Holle’s Silver Mountain, where you’ll find a downhill slope that will thrill the whole family. When you’re climbing to the top, a tow rope will guide you. At the bottom, you’re welcomed by a chalet and a snack bar where you can warm up.
Warming Up at the Casino
Once you’ve had enough of the cold and being outside during your St. Ignace visit, you can try your luck at Kewadin Casino, where you’ll find no shortage of slots and table games. Who knows, you may get lucky and walk out with enough money to cover your trip expenses.
Where to Stay in St. Ignace During the Winter
Believe it or not, St. Ignace has more than 1,500 rooms available to meet the budgets and needs of all visitors. But if you’re going to be in town for the Labatt Blue UP Pond Hockey Championship, book your room early.
A Bed and Breakfast
For a year-round, budget-friendly hotel, check out the Colonial House Inn. It’s located downtown in a Victorian mansion overlooking Mackinac Island. If you’re looking for a classic bed and breakfast, Colonial House is St. Ignace’s only such place.
Hotels & Motels
You should also consider the Birchwood Motel, which offers affordable, cozy rooms, some of which have fully-equipped kitchenettes. Also, you can bring your pets, and you’re not far from snowmobile trail access.
If you’re looking for the ultimate in entertainment, book a room at Kewadin Shores Casino and Hotel. You’ll have access to a lakefront view and all the amenities you could want, including slots and poker tables, an arcade, a whirlpool, and an exercise room.
If you’re looking to bring your pets with you on your journey to St. Ignace, you’re in luck because St. Ignace offers many pet-friendly places to stay. You can choose the Quality Inn, which offers a Q Corner Breakfast Program, a tanning bed, massage, and nightly popcorn among its amenities.
Another pet-friendly location is the Pines Motel, where you’ll find a continental breakfast, wireless internet, and access to snowmobile trails.
Awesome Places to Eat in St. Ignace
Once you’ve gotten your fill of pond hockey or other fun winter activities in and around St. Ignace, you’re likely going to be hungry. Thankfully, there are plenty of restaurants offering up stick-to-your-ribs meals that will hit the spot after a day in the cold.
If you’re looking for an easy, delicious family meal, check out B.C. Pizza. This is a popular chain around Northern Michigan that serves gourmet, handmade pizza. It also has an everyday lunch buffet and half off on Tuesdays, so you can load up on wings and pizza while taking in the view of Mackinac Bridge.
Bentley’s BML Cafe
If you’re looking for a great breakfast before heading to the pond hockey rinks, stop at Bentley’s BML Cafe. Located right across from the Arnold Line’s main dock, you can fill up on a hearty breakfast or a daily special.
If you come in after the games, you can warm up with homemade chili and soups. Then, chase those with a slice of homemade cake or pie.
If you want more of a classic sit-down meal experience, visit Village Inn. You’ll find a wide variety of offerings, including steak, fresh fish, pasta, Mexican, and burgers. If you stop for lunch, you can fill up on a delicious sandwich like the turkey, Swiss cheese, and bacon combo — aka. the Hey Arnold.
If you’re coming to the U.P. for the first time, you absolutely need to have a pasty. It’s a delicious combination of beef, onions, potato, and rutabaga mixed together and baked in a flaky crust.
Lehto’s Pasties, which has consistently been voted one of the best pasty restaurants in the Upper Peninsula, is worth checking out. Though the downtown location is closed for the season, you can still order online and have pasties shipped to you.
The Quintessential Upper Peninsula Winter Experience
Whether you’re competing in the annual Labatt Blue UP Pond Hockey Championship or watching as a spectator, it really is an unforgettable experience. You can watch some competitive hockey and fill up on a delicious meal at one of several restaurants when the games are done for the day.
If you’re looking for something to do besides hockey, take advantage of the location. Go on a snowmobile ride or a cross-country ski trek to take in Michigan’s natural beauty. Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. And, the possibilities are endless with winter things to do in Michigan!