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On solid ice? Labatt Blue Pond Hockey hits RiverWorks - INTERVIEW

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Considering the long winters that Buffalo deals with year after year, you’d think pulling off a pond hockey tournament would be a breeze.

Well, since 2011’s glorious gathering at the Erie Basin Marina—where the wind was biting, the ice rock-hard and the playing conditions immaculate—precious little has gone right for the Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament.

An unseasonably warm Lake Erie forced the 2012 tournament onto the streets, and that news deterred over half of the already-registered teams from participating, even after receiving a full refund.

2013 brought an ambitious attempt at constructing man-made ponds in the parking lots of the Erie Basin Marina, but the tournament—originally scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. that Saturday—was delayed until 11 a.m. and forced to cancel by 2:30.

Some of the registered teams hadn’t even played a game yet, but the slushy surface was deemed unplayable (see photo right).

This year, it looks like Labatt Blue is ready to go toe-to-toe with Mother Nature, and 120 seven-person teams are poised for two full days of ice hockey.

“Our biggest goal was to guarantee ice [for the tournament],” Labatt Blue brand manager Lisa Texido said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

The 2014 Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament is scheduled to run from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. Friday and then 7:30 a.m. through 7:30 p.m. Saturday at a new site, Buffalo RiverWorks, 333 Ganson St., Buffalo. Instead of City Hall looming as the backdrop, this year you’ll see a towering grain elevator in the background.

Each of the teams is guaranteed at least three round-robin style games of two, 13-minute halves. Four players from each team are on the ice at one time, and no goalies are allowed—the nets are six inches high and six feet wide, narrowing the target considerably.

Here’s a list of the teams participating, and our favorite team names are the Dangleberries, Hamburg’s Fit Hobbits and the Queen City Squirrels. (Also, if you get pleasure from sexual innuendo, you will enjoy the team list).

Judging by Weather.com’s forecast, teams should expect a sloppy Friday—low-40s in temperature and winds up to 30 miles per hour—but a picture-perfect Saturday, as temperatures should hover around 30, the skies are expected to clear up and the winds die down significantly.

The two full-size rinks—which will be split into thirds for the small-sided tournament—boast ice that, through a complicated setup of a cooling system, coils and brine, will remain frozen unless outside temperatures exceed 50 degrees. The ice will be maintained within a range of 18 to 22 degrees.

According to Labatt Blue brand manager Lisa Texido, pond hockey spectators shouldn’t expect the rest of the venue to be finished—that’s a mammoth, $15 million project that is expected to take several months—but there will be enough on-site entertainment to keep fans lubricated and entertained.

**The Labatt Lounge: An enclosed, heated area will vend Labatt Blue beer ($3 for 16 ounces) and food, as well as feature performances by local band Empire State from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday and 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday. When Empire State is off the stage, Labatt Blue has invited local DJs to spin.

Don’t fret that you’ll miss out on pond hockey action when inside the Labatt Lounge, as see-through glass garage doors allow fans to peer onto the ice.

TVs will be stationed inside the lounge, airing action from the RiverWorks ice and Olympic action from Sochi as well. An open-air patio acts as an extension of the lounge.

**Labatt Tailgate area: Does your team have an extended break? Inspired by the level of competition on the ice? Labatt’s tailgate area behind the lounge will offer summer-themed outdoor games like KanJam and Cornhole. (Editor’s note: I’ll mercilessly crush anyone in Cornhole).

**Traditional beer tent: Labatt Blue doesn’t think you’re a wimp, though, as a traditional outdoor beer tent will be stationed closer to the rinks—a welcomed respite for players, too. An outdoor jumbotron will be set up to televise Olympic coverage, which sounds easier said than done.

Through the commitment to a new site, an aggressive tournament format and special attention paid to improving the amenities, Labatt Blue is working hard to foster a tournament that makes participants forget the hard parking lots of 2012 and the slush-fest of 2013.

Will they be able to follow through?

Here’s a photo of work being done at the Buffalo RiverWorks site, courtesy of The Buffalo News’ Derek Gee:

(Photos from the 2013 Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament are courtesy of Robin David Brown—you can see his full gallery here).

TAGGED: buffalo riverworks, downtown, hockey, labatt blue, labatt blue pond hockey tournament

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