Lace up your ice skates.
Brush off the hockey sticks.
And get ready for the sixth annual Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament.
Organizers announced Friday that with a little help from Mother Nature and a new “Plan B” to make ice, the show will go on next Saturday – not in a frozen Erie Basin Marina as hoped but in man-made rinks in the marina parking lot.
More than 650 players are registered for the tournament.
There will be nine ice rinks, each 40 by 80 feet. The process involves covering the pavement and building boards to form the structures, explained Mike Pace, president of Pace Rinks.
The Buffalo company specializes in constructing outdoor ice rinks. For years, it has been building the structures on solid surfaces such as blacktop and grass.
Pace said the upcoming week’s cold temperatures will provide optimum conditions for making ice for the rinks.
“We’re confident we’ll have good ice for the event,” he said during a Friday news conference at Key Center’s North Tower, where Labatt USA is headquartered
Tournament organizers had to examine other options when crews were unable to get on the ice Thursday to take measurements. They were prohibited because of storm damage caused by high winds and unseasonably warm temperatures.
With the tournament just days away, organizers figured it is unlikely that the lake will form the 12 inches of ice needed in time for the tournament.
That’s when they went with Plan B: man-made rinks.
“We want to put on the best tournament possible. Next week, the weather forecast is so cold so we think the man-made rinks are our best opportunity to get players skating on Feb. 9,” said Lisa Texido, associate brand manager at Labatt Blue.
She said the beer company looked at this process for last year’s tournament – which was also held in the Erie Basin Marina parking lot – but the weather was not cold enough to make the ice, so it became a street hockey tournament last year.
“This year, we can keep them on ice skates,” Texido said.
The construction of the nine rinks is a seven-day process that got under way Friday morning as workers began building nine shells out of pressure-treated wood.
The construction schedule for the ice rinks includes:
• Today: Shells will be lined with plastic and filled with lake water.
• Sunday through Wednesday: Workers will use a specialized grinder to flatten the ice that forms, if necessary. Maintenance continues, including snow removal.
• Thursday and Friday: The rinks will get a coat of hot water to smooth the surface.
• Next Saturday: Rinks will be maintained and managed throughout the day, including periodic hot water treatments and smoothing as needed.
The tournament will begin at 8:30 a.m. next Saturday and continue until approximately 8:30 p.m. Divisional final games are slated to begin around 1:30 p.m., and final championship games will wrap up under the lights in the evening.
In addition to hockey on ice, the tournament will provide plenty of action for fans and spectators, including:
• A heated beer tent with clear viewing panels to watch the hockey action.
• Sabres alumni interacting with fans.
• Spotlight hockey game, featuring Buffalo police officers against Buffalo firefighters at 10:30 a.m.
• Buffalo Sabres ticket giveaways.
• Labatt Blue photo booth.
• Live deejay.
• Variety of foods, including pretzels, kettle corn, hot dogs, chili, free coffee and more.
For more information about the tournament, go to www.facebook.com/LabattBlueUS.