USA Hockey will return to Eagle River to host the 16th annual Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships, with some adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The four-on-four pond hockey event is set for Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 4-7, on Dollar Lake just east of Eagle River.

“We’re excited to be returning to Eagle River for what is one of the most anticipated hockey events each season for our adult players,” said Ashley Bevan, USA Hockey’s senior director of adult hockey. “We’ve worked with stakeholder groups, including local health officials, in establishing protocols to provide the safest possible environment for everyone involved, and while things will certainly be a bit different, we look forward to a great tournament.

“The success of this event is attributed to 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 were limited for the 2021 event due to safety precautions concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bevan said 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.

Because of safety concerns, Bevan said all high-risk 50-plus age divisions were not offered this year. In addition, spectators will not be allowed at the outdoor rinks on Dollar Lake. 

“Even with the changes, we’re looking forward to being back on Dollar Lake in February,” said Bevan.

Last year, due to deep snow and slush on area lakes, the pond hockey tournament was moved to the World Championship Derby Complex in Eagle River.

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 and fans each winter.

Bevan said the event is coordinated with the help of the Eagle River Recreation Association (ERRA) and the Eagle River Area Fire Department.

“With the volunteerism here in Eagle River, it’s been great for us,” said Bevan.

The popular event was named the recipient of SportsTravel magazine’s 2009 Sports¬≠Travel 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 — putting Eagle River on the map.