Shorewood’s Dave Bigham was many things to many people. Depending on whom you ask, you’ll hear that he was one of the greatest athletes to ever come out of Mankato, and someone whose career credentials include being drafted by the Minnesota Twins, playing for the St. Paul Vulcans of the United States Hockey League, and being inducted into the Minnetonka Millers’ baseball hall of fame. There are plenty of local residents who will tell you that Bigham was an influential coach and an inspirational member of the community for his volunteerism—or who would recall his instantly contagious, beaming smile. But at the root of it all, Dave Bigham was a beloved husband and father, whose passing in 2012, at age 41, was felt by everyone who had made his acquaintance.
For the past four years, the legacy and spirit of Dave Bigham has lived on through the North American Pond Hockey Championship. Each January (if the ice is safe enough), dozens of teams sign up to play on Excelsior Bay, for four days of hockey and festivities. Most years, more than a dozen rinks are created across Lake Minnetonka specifically for the event—this year, because of ice concerns, the hockey part of the championship wasn’t included, but the show went on with lots of other activities and events.
While a passion for hockey might be an initial reason to participate in the tournament, Susan Bigham, Dave’s widow and tournament organizer, will be the first to tell you that hockey is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding what takes place on the frozen tundra.
“It’s bigger than hockey,” she says. “The word is getting out, and people are coming from all over now. Dave’s energy is definitely there.”
Each year, there are tournament teams featuring players from the collegiate level to former professionals—but one group in particular stands out. Bigsy’s Babes, named in honor of Dave Bigham, aren’t necessarily the most competitive group on the ice, but they embody what the tournament experience is all about. Team member Laura Hotvet explains how the women play to honor Bigham’s legacy. “It’s all about fun for us,” Hotvet says. “I think our record is something like one win and 10 losses. But we all came together because we love hockey, and all the women are connected to Dave Bigham in some way. He touched all of our lives, and Dave is out there with us the whole time. This is exactly how he would want it to be.”
Bigham had always been actively involved with the tournament, and besides being a volunteer and organizer for the event, he helped increase participation. After his passing, some of Bigham’s friends and founders of the nonprofit DWB Memorial Foundation bought the rights to the North American Pond Hockey Championship, and turned it into a benefit event that had raised $446,000 in charitable donations as of this writing.
For those who have yet to attend the tournament, DWB Memorial Foundation treasurer and tournament organizer Jenny Mattiacci describes the overall vibe of the weekend as one of total communal unity. “We get plenty of spectators, and it’s a phenomenal turnout,” Mattiacci says. “People come with their families, pulling kids on sleds, showing up on snowmobiles. It’s an incredible winter festival environment.”
As Susan Bigham likes to put it, the essence of the tournament is “hockey with a heart.” Hotvet and the rest of Bigsy’s Babes can certainly attest to this, and when it comes to bringing together the community that Dave Bigham was so much a part of, it’s easy to see and feel the heart that unites this community for hockey.
“We call it hockey with a heart because it truly is,” Hotvet says. “I can only describe it as people in the Upper Midwest embracing the weather, embracing the season, and getting together and doing something for the greater good. And that’s what keeps it going: the good feeling that you get.”