Once again, the Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament may have to delete the word “pond” from its name this year and substitute a daylong street hockey event Feb. 9.
The culprit, of course, would be the second straight warmer-than-normal winter in these parts.
While most Western New Yorkers are celebrating the unseasonable highs in the low and mid-50s forecast for today and Wednesday, those balmy temperatures could spell the death knell for this year’s sixth annual version of the event on ice.
“Our hope is that we still will be able to play on the ice,” said Lisa Texido, associate brand manager for Labatt Blue. “If we can’t, we’ll play on the streets.”
The tournament needs a minimum of 12 inches of ice in Erie Basin Marina, tournament organizers say. The officials reported ice thickness of 3½ to 4½ inches in the marina Monday.
With ice fishermen visible in the marina over the weekend and the region stuck in a recent deep freeze, the 12-inch minimum seemed possible. Then the forecast emerged for temperatures climbing into the 50s this week. Tournament organizers also are concerned about heavy wind gusts that could help break up the ice.
On the other hand, temperatures are expected to move back into the 20s and teens later this week.
After a meeting Monday between tournament organizers and city officials, planners were still hopeful about the prospects for pond hockey.
“We’re just going to have to wait and see,” one organizer said. “By Thursday or Friday, we’ll have a better idea of where we stand.”
Because of the uncertainty of ice in the marina, tournament organizers this year planned just a one-day event, from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 9. If the ice weren’t safe that day, the makeup day was set for the following day.
On Dec. 7, after a two-week registration period, tournament officials announced the 96 registered teams, each with four to seven players.
Last winter, the event had to move to land, as a lack of ice depth forced the teams onto the Erie Basin Marina parking lots for the weekend of Feb. 10-12. Slightly more than half of the 144 teams that signed up for the event chose not to play when the tournament moved to the parking lots.