Buffalo, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- Labatt Blue beer on Tuesday announced that the fifth annual Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament will shift to a street hockey tournament.
A much milder Buffalo winter has made it impossible to guarantee pond hockey play, yet tournament organizers remained committed to providing an authentic outdoor hockey experience for the 144 teams and more than 1,000 players who originally registered for the 2012 games.
The Labatt Blue Buffalo Street Hockey Tournament dates and location will remain the same, with games beginning Friday, February 10 through Sunday, February 12, 2012 at Erie Basin Marina. All 144 registered teams will receive a full refund for their original $250 registration fee, and will have automatic entry into the Labatt Blue Buffalo Street Hockey Tournament, at no cost.
According to Brett Carlsen, associate brand manager of Labatt Blue, the decision to keep the hockey tournament at Erie Basin Marina was made in the unlikely event that Buffalo enters a deep freeze and achieves the 12 inches of ice on Lake Erie needed for pond hockey play.
“Mother Nature certainly hasn’t cooperated with us this year, but we didn’t want to let that stop us from putting on a great hockey tournament," Carlsen said in a news release. "If by some miracle we get the ice we need, we’ll do everything we can do to get the tournament on ice. More likely though, we will be enjoying some great, competitive street hockey games and icy cold Labatt Blue beer on February 10-12 at Erie Basin Marina.”
According to Carlsen, many contingency plan options were weighed, but in the end, several key factors dictated the decision to shift to street hockey play.
• Date change: With 144 teams and more than 1,000 players, many coming from out of town, changing dates of the tournament was not a feasible option. Other logistics also would have impacted a possible date change, including vendors and other partners. Additionally, a date change would not guarantee colder weather or a frozen lake or pond.
• Location change: Several alternate locations were identified and analyzed, however weather and rink construction logistics and mandatories could not guarantee the needs of the tournament. For example, the Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament uses 10 rinks throughout the weekend; building rinks elsewhere also requires cold temperatures for ice freezing. The above average temperatures the Buffalo area has been seeing simply could not guarantee that as a feasible option.
• Temporary rinks/Field flooding: Organizers also researched spaces throughout WNY, with the intent to construct temporary rinks and/or flood existing fields. However, given the above-average temperatures the Buffalo area has seen, this still left hockey plans uncertain and in the hands of Mother Nature.
• Synthetic rinks: Tournament organizers researched purchasing synthetic rinks for the tournament, however this proved not to be a feasible option.
• Indoor play: The spirit behind the Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament has always been an authentic outdoor hockey experience -- grabbing sticks and pucks and skating with whatever Mother Nature throws at you. Indoor facilities do not provide the same atmosphere, nor offer the space or availability to accommodate the tournament’s needs: eight to 10 rinks in a single location, three days, 144 teams and more than 1,000 players.
• Cancellation: This was the tournament’s last resort option. Labatt Blue’s goal is to put on a great hockey tournament for players and fans. Should street hockey play become unsafe at any time during the weekend, the tournament will be cancelled and will not be rescheduled.
Tournament organizers note that most details will remain the same for street hockey, including set up and logistics of the games.
• Competing teams will be comprised of four to seven players, 21 years of age and older, playing a four-on-four format, absent a goalie.
• Nets will remain at six inches high and six feet wide like the goals used in the Labatt Blue US Adult Pond Hockey Championships held in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
• Teams will compete in a round robin format in a specified division.
• The winner of each bracket will go on to play a championship game.
• Players should wear street sneakers or boots appropriate for street hockey play.
• Players must also wear helmets and are encouraged to wear protective padding (gloves, shin and elbow pads) to encourage safe hockey play.
• Teams will use a standard street hockey ball (versus a hockey puck).
• Rinks will be located throughout the Erie Basin Marina lots and will be maintained by City of Buffalo crews.
• Teams registered for the tournament must commit to playing in the Labatt Blue Buffalo Street Hockey Tournament by Monday, January 23 at 9 a.m. Should any teams drop out, those on the current pond hockey waiting list will be contacted by tournament director Ed Ellis to play.
“We’re anticipating a very similar set-up and atmosphere at the Erie Basin Marina, including night hockey “under the lights,” live music on Friday and Saturday evenings, a gaming tent, dee-jay, lots of food options and cold Labatt Blue beer,” said Carlsen.
“One thing is for sure – there’s no perfect solution or fool-proof execution for this tournament. Mother Nature dealt us a hard hand – and we’re responding in true pond hockey fashion by taking what she’s thrown our way and making the absolute best of it. We’re excited for Labatt Blue Buffalo Street Hockey – and we encourage teams, players and fans to gear up for a great hockey weekend on Feb. 10-12 at Erie Basin Marina.”
Team captains and players can direct questions to tournament director Ed Ellis at email@example.com. Ellis also will be in contact with team captains regarding updated player registration and waiver forms. For more information, visit www.labattbluepondhockey.com.
For updates on the tournament, details and more information, join the conversation at: www.facebook.com/Labattbluepondhockey.
*The Labatt Blue Buffalo Street Hockey Tournament remains subject to weather conditions.