The Cataract City is putting a new spin on a classic.
The Niagara Falls Education Foundation will hold the inaugural Cataract Hockey Classic this weekend at Hyde Park Ice Pavilion.
Spun off from the Cataract City Classic basketball showcase held at Niagara Falls High School each of the past 14 years, the hockey version will feature tripleheaders on Friday night and Saturday morning involving local high school teams Niagara Falls, Lewiston-Porter, Sweet Home and Grand Island, and Rochester-area schools Hilton and Victor.
Proceeds from the event will go toward the Niagara Falls Education Foundation’s scholarship programs.
Niagara Falls hockey coach Stan Wojton said the Cataract Classic is the latest milestone for the Wolverines, who have evolved over the past five years from a club program to one of the stronger outfits in the Western New York Varsity Ice Hockey Federation.
“We were trying to think what the next stepping stone would be and hosting a tournament is something we could do to promote our school and our program to local youth hockey players and let them know that Niagara Falls hockey is something to strive for,” Wojton said.
Wojton also is eager to show off Hyde Park Ice Pavilion, which has undergone extensive renovations in recent years.
“The City of Niagara Falls and [operator] Gene Carella have really spruced it up and it’s a nice place to call home now,” Wojton said. “We are going to have our pep band at the game and make a ‘Wolvarena’ at Hyde Park that hopefully gives us a home-ice advantage.”
On the ice, the games will give participating teams a midseason measuring stick in their preparation for the postseason.
“The local teams have all been very competitive in the federation through the beginning of the season,” Wojton said. “Hilton and Victor are strong Section V teams, very comparable to what we have.”
The classic will start with Sweet Home taking on Victor at 8 p.m. Friday in the main rink, followed by Niagara Falls vs. Grand Island at 9:30. Lew-Port will meet Hilton at 9:15 p.m. in an adjacent rink.
Lew-Port will play Sweet Home at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in the main rink, followed by Niagara Falls vs. Victor at 11, and Grand Island vs. Hilton at 12:30.
To determine a champion, each period of play will be worth one point in the standings, and game victories will be worth two points. There will be a five-minute overtime period followed by a shootout to break tied games. Goal differential will be the first standings tiebreaker, and goals scored will be the second.
Wojton hopes to have a true eight-team tournament in the future. “This is the first year of the trial,” he said.
The basketball Cataract Classic began as a four-team tournament and his grown into a 16-team event. It is no longer a tournament, as Niagara Falls is usually the only team that plays more than one game, often against high-profile teams from out of the area.
“It’s our biggest crowds of the year and with the talent we bring in, it makes for a really exciting basketball environment,” said Niagara Falls boys basketball coach Sal Constantino, who has been in charge of recruiting teams to the Cataract Classic since 2004.
“In talking to Stan, I think he’s like we were in the beginning and he’s hoping to build into what we have,” Constantino added.
“Hockey is big in this area, the rinks are full all of the time. In time, he’ll be able to bring in teams that have some notoriety.”
Art. Jocoy Jr., president of the Niagara Falls Education Foundation, said, “We hope it becomes an equal to the basketball tournament. We want to give people something exciting to watch and we hope it blossoms into a big event that we do for years to come.”
Jocoy also hopes the Cataract Hockey Classic grows into the fundraising equal of its basketball cousin.
Since 2002, the nonprofit Niagara Falls Education has awarded scholarship funds to 19 Niagara Falls High School graduates and honored 10 Distinguished Alumni and 11 Athletic Hall of Fame inductees at an annual banquet.
The foundation also has paid travel expenses for the basketball and hockey teams to attend tournaments.