While it’s true that the turn of the year invites new beginnings, in Scandia, January is all about traditions. So when Vinterfest, the city’s winter celebration honoring traditional Swedish celebrations, was a year away from celebrating ten years in 2015, it was no surprise that the festival added the state’s most classic pastime: outdoor hockey. Under the clever name Scanley Cup, the tournament is now in its fourth year, and has grown into a beloved battle of friendly enemies and not-so friendly elements.
For organizer Corey Roberts of Roberts Family Life Celebration Home and Forest Lake Floral, Gift and Garden, the Scanley Cup is a family affair. Roberts and his two brothers, Kelly and Blake, grew up in Scandia spending winter afternoons on the pond. Before the Scanley Cup, Roberts’s tournament-organizing skills first graced Forest Lake’s Flake Festival, an annual February favorite. To the dismay of all hockey diehards in the region, its late February date often meant unpredictable temperatures. So Roberts took a hint from his roots and joined the Vinterfest ranks, and the Scanley Cup was born.
The tournament welcomes 10 to 12 teams each year, with rosters of six to 13 players. Friday nights and Saturdays the teams face off at Wojtowicz Skating Park and live out the beloved official tagline of the weekend, “Never hang ’em up.” All players are required to be at least 18, but the tournament welcomes players well into their 50s. “Half the guys have kids, and every other weekend is about them,” Roberts says. “This is the one weekend a year that is about us.”
There’s no rink better for an outdoor tournament; between its warming house, concrete base and Zamboni for ice care, Wojtowicz Skating Park is the go-to outdoor rink. According to Mayor Randal Simonson, in 2015 the rink had ice a whole month before any other rink in the area. “I have personally spoken with people who drove two hours to skate on our outdoor ice, because they heard it’s the best,” Simonson says. Proceeds from the tournament are dedicated to ensuring that the rink and warming house can stay well-maintained.
Games take on a four-on-four format, each team a player short from a traditional line-up, which Roberts claims changes the whole dynamic and flow of the game. All hockey rules apply on the full-size sheet, including off-sides—rules rarely employed on smaller outdoor rinks. Yet the tournament’s crowning distinction has less to do with how many players are on the ice and more to do with who is on the ice—each team also has a goalie.
For Stew Parker, the Scanley Cup is a standing “guys’ weekend” on his calendar. Parker and Roberts have played in adult hockey leagues together for more than 10 years, so Parker’s name was one of the first on the roster in 2014.
“As you get older, the hockey community gets smaller and smaller,” Parker says. “Most of us know each other, and that makes it all the more fun to get out there on the ice with and against each other.” Their team was the 2015 champion, and was 2-0 in 2016 at the point that the remainder of the tournament was canceled due to warm weather. “That year, Mother Nature was the clear winner,” Roberts says with a chuckle.
Another motivation for players is the major hardware on the line. The Scanley takes on a more traditional cup shape than the NHL prize it is named after, but to the players of the tournament, it’s just as serious. “The cup is really special—we spent time picking it out, and it’s definitely a motivation for the players,” Roberts says. Just like the NHL’s Stanley Cup, winning teams are granted time with the Scanley Cup. One year a team even took it out on the lake with them during summer months—dreaming, no doubt, of fast-forwarding to when the lake would be a glossy sheet, and it would be time to defend that title.
While the players enjoy the ice, the sidelines leave little to be desired. Thanks to local sponsors, it’s not uncommon for attendees to wander into the hospitality tent and post up for lengths of time, and with Meister’s beer, burgers and even a DJ, it’s hard not to do so. “The great enjoyment I have about the Scanley Cup is seeing the new faces it brings to our community and the energy levels rising for that one big day,” Simonson says. “The final game and the award of the Scanley Cup brings great joy to all involved—on or off the ice.”
And when the winter sun starts to sink below the horizon, the setting only gains festive flair. Rinkside bonfires invite marshmallow roasting and hand-warming until the occasion ends in the only way fit for Lord Scanley’s audience—with a sky full of fireworks.
As sure as the promise of the new year comes the enduring promise of a great game of puck with friends in the January air. Roberts is quick to point out that the tournament is as much for love of the game as it is for love of community. “At the end of the day, everyone’s all out here embracing winter under the fireworks,” Roberts says. “It’s the best of the Minnesota experience.”
The puck drops on this year’s festivities at 4 p.m. January 27, which continue throughout the day January 28. Winning teams often pose after a hard-fought weekend ends.