With ice forming on most North Woods lakes, including secluded Dollar Lake just east of Eagle River, many people are thinking about ice fishing. 

But several people have their minds on something else — hockey.

That’s because USA Hockey will return to Eagle River to host the 15th annual Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships.

The four-on-four pond hockey event is set for Friday through Sunday, Feb. 7-9, on Dollar Lake just east of Eagle River, with the tournament headquarters the Chanticleer Inn.

“We look forward to seeing familiar faces and many new teams for the experience of a lifetime,” said Ashley Bevan, senior director of adult hockey for USA Hockey.

This year’s event will feature a special guest for the 15th anniversary event, according to Bevan, who will be on the ice and make a special appearance at a Saturday evening reception.

Bevan said it’s exciting for USA Hockey to be returning to Eagle River for the 15th year.

“Our continued growth is a sign both of the success of this event and the hard work of our staff, sponsors and local volunteers,” said Bevan. “So much of the experience for the players is the community itself.”

According to Bevan, registration numbers will reach about 300 teams for the 2020 event, up slightly from last year when 280 teams competed for national championships and pond hockey bragging rights.

Bevan said hundreds of teams were parked on the USA Hockey Adult Hockey website in September trying to land a spot at the immensely popular outdoor tournament. The event filled in approximately two hours at $700 per team.

“We don’t have skaters from all 50 states, but I can tell you we are darn close,” said Bevan. “Obviously, we get teams from across the Midwest. We’re looking forward to being back on Dollar Lake in February. It can’t come soon enough.”

The pond hockey event represents one of the largest coordinated community efforts of the winter for the North Woods, bringing in about 2,000 players along with fans.

The popular event was named the recipient of SportsTravel magazine’s 2009 SportsĀ­Travel Award for the best amateur single-sport event. And in 2011, NBC aired a segment about the tournament on the telecast of “Hockey Day in America.” Because of the national publicity, the pond hockey event attracts teams from across the country.

“We look forward to celebrating the thrill of hockey in its purest form in the frozen tundra of northern Wisconsin,” said Bevan. “This event is about the teams, the experience and the camaraderie while enjoying hockey the way it used to be played.”

The tournament, which will be staged outdoors on Dollar Lake, will feature teams of adults 21 years or older divided into 20 no-check divisions for men and women, including a 60-and-older division. 

Locally, the Eagle River Recreation Association gets involved by generating volunteers to referee and score the games, while the Eagle River Area Fire Department gets involved by building the rinks on Dollar Lake and selling concessions at the event.

It might still be a little over two months away, but having ice on Dollar Lake means people are starting to think about the pond hockey championships!