HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs were being waged thousands of miles from Honolulu this week, dozens of ice hockey players gathered on Oahu for the 31st Annual Hawaii Classic.
"For teams that have never done this, [teams] from the mainland that are doing this for the first time, the guys are just amazed sometimes at how we get to play hockey in Hawaii," said Dr. Pierre Asselin, a professor at HPU and goalie with the Hawaiian Hockey Club. "It's like the best of both worlds, right?"
As far as ice hockey goes, Hawaii is, at first glance, an unlikely home for a hockey tournament. But teams from around the globe -- 12 of the 16 teams in this year's field were from outside of Hawaii -- return to Hawaii year after year for the opportunity to play the sport in one of the world's most beautiful places.
"This tournament gets filled up in a couple of weeks or a couple of months of this one ending," said Mitch Gray, a team captain who plays with Asselin. "Guys really look forward to coming down here. It's the Aloha that everybody sends, everybody just has a great time."
Players from outside of the Hawaii, some of whom have returned to the Ice Palace annually for a decade or more, say the game's Hawaii-based players often exceed the expectations of their counterparts from hotspots like Alaska or Canada.
"The first couple of times coming here, some of the teams were really, really talented," said Donald Hopkins, an Alaska resident who played in his third 'Classic' this week. "Better than we expected."
"We were very surprised," said teammate Eric Stamer, of Soldotna, Alaska. "We thought we would win every game, and they were very competitive, and we lost a lot of games."
Turns out, teams from the mainland lost lots of games to teams from Hawaii in 2016. In the tournament's "A" Division, the highest offered, the Hawaiian Hockey Club reigned supreme over a team of players from across California.
"I know it's hockey in Hawaii, but it really matters to us," said Dr. Asselin. "To play and have fun with teams from the mainland, from Canada, from elsewhere, is great, but then to win the whole thing and give a good account of Hawaii also, is just a really cool feeling."