SEELEY LAKE - After a summer marked by fire and smoke the town of Seeley Lake is celebrating the cold weather with their annual pond hockey tournament.
Warm smiles and cold beer welcomed locals, tourists and hockey players the eighth annual Seeley Lake Pond Hockey Tournament hosted 44 teams from all across the U.S. and even Canada.
"We get together once a year and make it happen, and just people getting to visit in have a great time with each other," said Mike Lindemer who owns Lindy's Steakhouse.
"It's really magical. Walking down that hill on Friday night seeing the wall tents, and the chair in the noise on the ice is just sensually a different experience," referee Jeff Cincoski said.
This year, locals are using this warm winter time to recover from a nightmare fire season.
The tournament has always been important to this community, but now more so than ever as business owners are still reeling from the economic damage wrought by the fires.
"I think this is a huge economy booster for Seeley commerce since we had a rough summer. And we're hoping this is a kickoff to a really good winter," Lindemer told MTN News.
Saying the summer was rough is an understatement. The numerous fire complexes choked the town with smoke, shut down businesses, forced evacuations -- and most importantly hit the tourism industry.
Lindemer steakhouse was one of many local business owners who lost their main source of revenue this last fire season.
Though mixed weather caused a couple speed bumps in preparation, Seeley residents were ready for snow and worked hard all winter to make the pond hockey tournament the best it could be.
"The snow caused a lot of extra additional hours…we've been out here Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, same thing with New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. The weather doesn't give us a break at all," said Doug "do all" Weer.
"It's about fun, you know. And that's what these guys are doing. They're having fun out there, even though the ice isn't the greatest...it's great to see visitors come in in the middle of winter time when it's usually slowest," Weer said.
"I mean, we're here to support the community, I mean in the summertime it's just all lake goers and vacation people. So I think this is a nice little financial injection into the community in the dead of winter. Everyone kind of rallies around it," added hockey player Teddy Bowman.
Lindemer hopes to heal the economic burns of last summer and carry Seeley Lake through a successful and profitable winter.
Proceeds are donated to youth hockey leagues, the local school in Seeley and the event promotes local business.
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