The Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament on Saturday just couldn’t seem to catch a break from the weather.
The wet, slushy snow that fell across the region on Friday caused major problems for the nine man-made ice rinks built in the parking lot of the Erie Basin Marina.
The players gave it a go for a couple hours, but the ice conditions continued to deteriorate and by early afternoon the tournament was canceled.
“Trust me, nobody is more upset than me at this point,” said Lisa Texido, associate brand manager for Labatt Blue. “I don’t know what Mother Nature has against pond hockey.”
The man-made rinks were installed to avoid a repeat of last year, when the lack of ice in the marina forced organizers to change the event into a street hockey competition.
By Friday morning, the ice was in perfect condition, said Mike Pace, the rink builder.
Then the storm hit.
Four of the nine rinks were unplayable come Saturday morning, despite efforts to get them back in shape.
“What happened was we got a quarter-inch of rain and 6 inches of wet snow and it ruined the ice,” said Pace, owner of Pace Landscaping and Rinks in Hamburg. “Had it not been for that weather system, we would have been all right.”
Organizers were left with more than 650 disappointed players from 96 teams, some coming from as far away as Massachusetts, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
One was Jeff Donaldson, who drove here from Boston, Mass., through some of the worst weather conditions he had ever experienced. McDonald, 26, was just happy to make it through the storm safely.
And he at least got to play one game, which was against two former Buffalo Sabres and a minor league player.
“It’s a bummer we couldn’t play all day long,” said McDonald, whose fiancee, Samantha Pagano, is a Town of Tonawanda native. “But my fiancee has family up here, so we got to see them. And playing one game was fun.”
Organizers offered their regrets.
Full refunds were promised to everyone who planned to participate, including those who already played.
Also, beer prices were slashed and everyone was invited into the beer tent.
“Disappointed, but obviously, we make the best of something that didn’t work out,” said Larry Scott, 35, of Buffalo, as he hoisted a can of the sponsor’s brew. “People are obviously enjoying themselves.”
There was some grumbling about the condition of the rinks on what otherwise would seem like a perfect day for hockey outdoors, but most took it in stride.
Michael Maue and teammates Aaron Pfalzer and Nick Raczyk got two games in before the tournament was called off.
“So we’re kind of blessed,” said Maue, 46, of Depew. “Some guys only got to play one game. Some didn’t get to play at all.”
“On the bright side, it is a good time,” said Jim Randles, who drank beer with teammates Scott Fruehauf and Tony Rosati.
“It’s more to get friends together,” said Randles, 40, of North Tonawanda. “I’m still glad I came.”