My wife and I are big into hockey, as are all three of our kids. We live in Northwest Montana, about 60 miles from the Canadian border, and hockey is a breakout sport in our valley.
The last three years we have organized a tournament at the end of the season that pits families against families. We call it the "Family Hockey Challenge", a 4-on-4 hockey tournament featuring Mom, Dad, and a handful of kids.
Hockey is a great sport for an event like this, as the families of our hockey community spend years together, locked in frozen buildings, traveling around our region, watching our kids grow up together.
Ice fees are high, and few families are large enough to have subs that can play. So a number of rule changes are necessary to make the games quick and decisive. At the end, you want to crown a champion that, in that year, has the best combination of age and skill, youth and energy, craftiness and cunning.
Step 1: Rent a Rink, or Clear a Pond
We typically rent out our local rink for two to three hours of ice time. In this time you can work through a single elimination tournament with 12 teams. Our ice fees are about $100 per hour, so this works out to about $10 per family per game they play in.
Games in our system work out to two 5 minute halves with a minute warmup and a minute in-between. Time is of the essence to get all the games complete, so it really helps to get a professional time keeper and referees.
Step 2: Recruit Teams
We do a few weeks of email campaigns around our hockey community to get it rolling. The trash talking that ensues is priceless, perhaps the best part of the whole event.
Team rules are as follows:
Each team must be comprised of two parents, and at least two kids. We have had a lot of families with one child wish to participate, but have not found a way yet to work them in fairly.
Many families are different these days--we let in all sorts. In some cases we have two divorced parents playing together, in other cases a mom brings the guy she is dating. Some cases it takes step-siblings, or even kids of the woman dad is dating, to make up a team of four. We judge none and accept all. The only real rule is that there is some real connection between the family members--either they are related by blood, or they are really, actively dating one another. That's about all you can ask.
We also do not accept three kids and one parent as a team. 9 times out of 10, the weaknesses are the parents, and parents spend all season in the stands. Mom and dad not only both have to skate, they both have to be on the ice at all times. There have been plenty of complaints to this rule, but we are sticking with it.
Step 3: Team Uniforms / Costumes
Team 'uniforms' are a key to the overall fun of the tournament. The idea of uniforms has been stretched as far as you can go. We've seen pirate costumes, clowns, chicken, figure skaters, super heros, nuns... the list goes on and on. The rule is only that a team must be in consistent uniforms, they can come up with anything that makes sense to them.
As far as equipment goes, we'd like to see everyone in full equipment, but it doesn't always quite work out that way. Our local house league owns enough equipment that we can usually pull together enough gear to keep it safe.
Step 4: Recruit Two Goalies
Since we don't allow the families to bring their own goalie, we are often challenged with finding two well matched goalies to play in all games. With the games needing to be decisive in 10 minutes of ice time, we usually try to have goalies that will give up a lot of goals. This can be younger goalies, inexperienced adults, or players from older age teams that have never played goalie before.
The key however, is that the goalies need to try hard. it doesn't matter the score, when a goalies starts letting in goals to 'keep a game fun', you often end up with the wrong team winning, or some frustrated players. The spirit of the games is 100% about fun, but there simply isn't enough time to have goalies trying to manipulate the games.
Bad goalies that will try their hardest has been the best formula we've found so far.
Step 5: Play the Games!
We try to always match like skilled teams in the first round, to ensure that everyone gets at least one game that they are competitive in.
The game rules are pretty much standard hockey rules, but again, with the interest of getting decisive victories in 10 minutes, we've added a few rules:
- All penalties are served with the offending player playing with the wrong end of their stick for 1 minute
- All fights are to be broken up by the player's own parents
- No player can score consecutive goals. This prevents one ringer from controlling a game
- If four different players on a team score goal, the team is awarded an additional goal
- All ties are sorted out with an immediate, sudden death shootout on the same goalie
- Goalies switch sides at half time
- Both parents must be on the ice at all times. Families with three or more children can sub out kids anytime the rules of hockey permit.
- To keep games moving, when a goalie covers the puck, the referee will whistle, the players pause, and the goalie throws the puck into either corner. As soon as the puck leaves the goalie, play continues.
Step 6: Crown a Winner
Our tournament features a Golden Skate trophy. Each year the winning family is inscribed on the trophy, and the trophy is housed in the rink trophy case. Bragging rights are huge in our community, and usually the email list is alive for weeks after the event, putting people in their place.
As the years wear on, the rise and fall is very interesting to watch. Some families kids go to college, others hit puberty and every year the power rises and falls. Good rivalries find a way to come together time and again. The rules are fluid, changing a bit each year to accommodate the best hockey, and crown the appropriate champion.
If you ever give this tournament a try, send us an email and pictures!!