"Plan B" may soon morph into "Plan A."
The success of this weekend's Labatt Blue Buffalo Street Hockey Tournament has organizers thinking about bringing it back - but as a summer event.
Labatt, in January, decided to switch the annual downtown Buffalo pond hockey tournament to a street hockey competition because the warmer-than-usual winter prevented Erie Basin Marina from freezing. For safety considerations the ice needs to be at least 12 inches thick to handle the weight of the players and related equipment. The marina, however, remains ice free.
The pond hockey tournament was expected to attract 144 seven-member teams including squads from Texas, Vermont and Austria, but when it was relegated to street hockey, the number of participating teams dropped to 64.
Similar Labatt-sponsored pond hockey tournaments this winter in Syracuse, Rochester and Glens Falls were outright canceled when waterways near those cities failed to freeze.
This past weekend's tournament gave Labatt and event organizers a successful template for future winters if unseasonable conditions arise.
"We designed this as 'Plan B' that we could execute under the worst of circumstances, meaning no ice or insufficient ice depth," said Brett Carlsen, Labatt associate brand manager.
Carlsen said even if the Erie Basin Marina doesn't freeze, Labatt may look at other local bodies of water for alternative sites for the tournament. This year, it was not an option because no local waterways had even the thinnest layers of ice.
"There could be an 'in-between' site or option, but not this year," Carlsen said.
The buzz from the street hockey version of this winter's tournament has planted the seed with Labatt's officials to run the traditional February pond hockey and also sponsor a mid-summer street hockey tournament in downtown Buffalo. The first summer tournament could be held as early as this year, Carlsen said.
"It is definitely a possibility," he said. "We will talk with a lot of people in the next week and decide from there. Buffalo is a hockey town and I think there would be a strong demand for a summer street hockey tournament."
The tournament, like the pond hockey, would be for adult players, 21 years of age or older and would be open to both men's and women's teams.
Labatt started the Buffalo pond hockey tournament in 2008, shortly after it moved its Labatt USA headquarters from Connecticut to downtown Buffalo.