Ninety-six teams of players had been looking forward to a hockey-filled weekend for months.
But damage done by Friday's wet snow, sleet and freezing rain created too much of a pond for the Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament. Organizers were forced to cancel all remaining games early Saturday afternoon, because ice conditions had become unsafe for the players.
Despite crews working all night to clean and groom them, by Saturday morning four of the nine rinks had deteriorated too much to play on. So the tournament opened after a couple of hours' delay
"The puck dropped at 11:00 AM, so we did have our [Buffalo] Fire [vs]. Police game, and we got some games in for the guys that were part of the morning schedule," said Labatt Blue Associate Brand Manager, Lisa Texido. "Unfortunately though, because we only had about half the rinks to work with, just the amount of guys that were playing and the amount of teams that we had cycling through, the rinks that we had weren't able to sustain."
Even after organizers cancelled the remaining games, some players refused to be shut out by Mother Nature.
George Cameron and his team took to smoothing out one of the rinks themselves, so they could get in some scrimmaging.
"No, no. We're here for the fun of it. Just wanna play some hockey, that's all," Cameron explained. And for a while, they kept at it.
...Until the ice could hold up no longer.
"Out there it's a little sloppy. Half the ice was water. Puck actually got stuck about two inches below the ice, at one point. Somebody tried to dig it out," player Brendan Call laughed, "they kind of got hit into the water."
But the weather was not enough to stop one group of hearty souls. Williamsville resident Ron Fitzpatrick's team hadn't been scheduled to play until 3:30 Saturday afternoon. Determined not to let Mother Nature shut them out, Fitzpatrick invited the group for an impromptu tournament of their own, right in Fitzpatrick's backyard.
For the past ten years, Fitzpatrick has built a homemade rink he builds at his house every winter. He and his teammates made full use of it -- well into the evening hours.
"We actually were here Wednesday night, sort of 'practicing'... having an absolute blast. You get the old guys out here, and it's just crazy. We're like all ten-year-olds again," said Fitzpatrick.
"It's hard to keep the guys off the ice. The hardest thing is gathering everybody together, getting the schedule in line. Once you do that, it's game on."
Labatt has announced that all registered teams will received a full refund, including the teams that did get to play.
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