The weather was perfect. The temperature held steady, at about 27 or 28 degrees. And the enthusiastic pond-hockey players could look up at sunny, blue skies overhead.
The date was Feb. 12, 2011, two years ago today, as the Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament enjoyed perhaps the finest moment in its now-six-year history.
As one player said that day, “The weather gods shined down on us.”
Unfortunately for organizers, those weather gods largely have turned their backs on the pond-hockey tourney in other years.
Only two of the six events have been played in decent pond-hockey conditions, and three of the last four tournaments have experienced poor enough conditions to warrant at least a partial cancellation of the ice hockey.
Still, don’t look for Labatt Blue to pull the plug on the event.
“We love hockey,” Lisa Texido, associate brand manager for Labatt Blue, said Monday. “We may have been thrown a few curve balls the last few years, but at the end of the day we want to put on a great hockey tournament. So we’ll come together as a team and figure out how to have a better event next year.”
The tournament has had a spotty six-year weather record.
According to previous Buffalo News stories, only 2011 and the inaugural 2008 event enjoyed good pond-hockey conditions. The conditions were OK, but not great, in 2009; poor in 2010; and weak enough the last two years to cancel the event or move to a street-hockey competition.
Saturday, only a few games were played on man-made rinks on the Erie Basin Marina parking lots before overnight rain and wet snow left the ice on the nine rinks wet, slushy and cracked, forcing the event to be canceled.
Mike Pace, owner and president of Pace Landscaping, said that the downtown area got hit with a quarter inch of rain and several inches of wet snow into early Saturday.
“We literally worked through the night nonstop to get as many rinks ready as possible,” Pace said. “We got five rinks skatable, but the ice surface became so soft because of the rain and wet snow.”
Those five rinks couldn’t stand the continued pounding of a few early games in the tournament. Organizers cut the action to four rinks before canceling the event at about 2:15 p.m.
Last year’s event became a street-hockey competition. And in 2010, when it was still a two-day tournament, the Sunday schedule was canceled after the Saturday games were hampered by warm temperatures and slushy conditions.
Labatt officials have been energetic, enthusiastic and resourceful. They’ve cut the tournament back to one day, to reduce the chances of a day being canceled. They moved to a street-hockey tourney when conditions were poor last year. And this year, they transferred from the Erie Basin Marina pond to nine man-made rinks.
But the cold, harsh truth is that nobody’s been able to play on the marina’s natural ice the last two years.
There’s a temptation to throw up our hands, blame it all on global warming and conclude that Buffalo can’t even host a pond-hockey tournament during its coldest time of the year, which runs from the last third of January through the first third of February.
Jim Mitchell, a National Weather Service meteorologist, doesn’t feel that way.
“We’ve just had a couple of winters where we haven’t seen a lot of cold air,” he said Monday.
“People are living in their little bubble in Western New York,” he added. “The Earth balances itself out. If there’s very warm conditions in one area, there’s going to be very cold conditions in another area.”
As an example, Mitchell cited Eastern Europe, Russia and Alaska, which have had one of their coldest and snowiest winters this season.
Texido, from Labatt Blue, said this year’s cancellation obviously was disappointing. But while many players were “bummed” that they couldn’t play, many spent the rest of the afternoon in the nearby beer tent, enjoying the winter party.
“I think it’s a great event for us,” she added. “We’ll keep rolling with the punches and figure this out.”