Marriage on Ice
Hockey loving couple tie the knot on Lake Morey in January
Eighty guests sat on green wooden benches in 13-degree weather on Lake Morey in Fairlee as Cortney Vandebelt skated down the ice on the arm of her father, Gordon, to exchange vows with Kevin Fretz before a justice of the peace wearing the jersey of his favorite team, the Montreal Canadiens.
And when Cortney and Kevin were pronounced man and wife, the moment was marked not by a polite smattering of applause by the guests, but by the raucous blast and fiery flash of a National Hockey League goal light.
From the time she was a little girl, hockey dominated Cortney’s life. She began playing youth league hockey as a 7-year-old in Canada, skated to two national hockey championships in Australia by the time she was 12 and played on the boys’ high school team in Indiana when no girls’ team was available.
Cortney knew exactly the kind of wedding she wanted and she never wavered from that dream. When her brother Will was 5 and presumably had reached the Age of Reason … at least in all things hockey … Cortney sat him down and explained that when she got married it would be on ice, and he would be her “Man of Honor.”
And on Jan. 15, 2017, that was his role, wearing a gray suit, blue tie and black hockey skates.
The day of the wedding opened with lowering gray skies and a cruel northern wind of the ilk that Vermonters call the “Montreal Express.”
“And then, like a scene out of a movie,” said Cortney, “I stepped onto the ice, the wind died, the clouds parted and the sun came out.” By this time, the 80 invited guests had swelled to a crowd of nearly 200, thanks to onlookers from the Lake Morey Resort, which sits lakeside.
For the wedding, Cortney wore a traditional white gown and over it, a long white faux-fur cape which she dubbed her “Princess Elsa cape” (from the Disney fantasy movie “Frozen”), white fluffy snowballs like earmuffs, and her black hockey skates, laced in blue ties. Her bouquet eschewed flowers in favor of a winter arrangement of green fir boughs, pine cones and winter pods sprayed in silver.
Cortney in her wedding dress. Portrait Gallery by Geoff and Wendy Photo.
Tall, willowy, with a classically beautiful face and glint of auburn in her long, curly hair, Cortney remembers hearing a tiny girl’s voice that piped up from among the onlookers. “Look mom! It’s Princess Elsa!”
“How often do you get to see someone you love actually live her dream?” muses Cortney’s mother Katherine, herself a figure skater who switched skates to join the Canadian Women’s Adult Hockey Team. The secret to Cortney’s perfect hockey wedding was in having a loving family who never once over the years dismissed a little girl’s wedding dreams as being impractical or silly. A lot of northern hotels and resorts were not nearly so sympathetic, however.
“We started looking for a venue by checking out towns that had hosted pond hockey tournaments,” said Cortney. “It also had to have a big lake that would freeze solid allowing guests to sit close to us during the wedding, and which offered skating, cross-country skiing, hiking and other winter sports.” What the couple encountered was a lot of “naysayers,” until they found Lake Morey Resort and a staff that was totally jazzed at the prospect of an ice wedding.
Bridging the time between the daytime wedding ceremony and the evening reception, the guests, ages 5 to 85, (most of them longtime friends who were hockey players, were married to hockey players or have kids who are hockey players) laced up their skates, picked up their sticks and played hockey warmed by a hot chocolate bar and blankets. And later, when they entered the reception, a huge sign overhead read, “All you need is hockey and love!”
For Kevin and Cortney, the hockey part was always there, and the love part came at their first meeting. They met at an engagement party and ended up talking hockey until 3 a.m.
The groom showed up for their first date (to a hockey game, of course) wearing his favorite Detroit Red Wings jersey. That almost got him permanently exiled to the penalty box, when he met Cortney’s dad, who prefers Maple Leaf fans and allows only fans of a few teams in the house.
“I was afraid my dad might just show him the door,” Cortney recalls. But then cooler heads prevailed and Cortney’s father eventually conceded that Kevin was at least involved in the right sport, even if he did have the poor judgment to cheer for the wrong team.
“I knew from the first time I met Cortney that I wanted to marry her,” said Kevin. And he proposed to the bride in Detroit right outside the stadium just before the start of a Maple Leafs-Red Wings game.
Today, Cortney teaches third grade at Park Tudor in Indianapolis, Indiana, and coaches 13 and 14-year-old boys in the Carmel Indiana Youth Hockey Association. Kevin works at Easterseals Crossroads as a mentors and coach for clients with social, physical or mental frailties and works with them to help them live more fulfilling lives.
As a team, they are living proof of the sign at their wedding that said, “All you need is hockey and love!”