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'The elements are the ultimate equalizer' in pond hockey tournament

'The elements are the ultimate equalizer' in pond hockey tournament

More than 700 come to Saratoga Springs to drink, play
'The elements are the ultimate equalizer' in pond hockey tournament
A scene from the Saratoga Frozen Springs Classic on Sunday in Saratoga Spa State Park.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The rain on Sunday wasn’t going to take the fun away for the players in this weekend’s Saratoga Frozen Springs Classic.

If anything, they said it makes the ice a little more unpredictable and the game itself a little more fun.

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For Derek Melancon, a Saratoga resident who played with Barrelhouse Allagash, playing on a pond is more fun than playing in an arena.

“Sometimes [arena ice] is too perfect,”Melancon said on Sunday. “[The rain] just adds another element to hockey.’

Justin Mason, a teammate of Melancon, agreed.

“The elements are the ultimate equalizer,” Mason said.

It’s the uniqueness of the three-day tournament — organized by Townsquare Media — that drew approximately 100 teams and more than 700 players to Saratoga this weekend. Sue MacDonald, sales and live events coordinator for Townsquare Media, said the tournament draws teams from approximately 10 states. While the rain did make some teams cancel their appearances in the tournament, the majority of them could care less.

“The weather doesn’t deter them,” MacDonald said. “They just want to play.”

The tournament has been going on for the past five years, except for 2016, when MacDonald said the weather was too warm for teams to play.

It was because of the popularity of hockey in upstate New York that the tournament was created, according to Jake Demmin, market president for Townsquare Media.

The tournament also brings an economic boost to the city during a slower time of the year, according to Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The tournament is part of the city's Winterfest, which begins with Chowderfest — this year on Feb. 3 — and ends with Saratoga Beer Week, which runs from Feb. 20-24.

Garofano said he didn’t have the exact dollar amount for how much business the tournament brings in, but he said it helps the city to fill gaps during a slower time of year when there aren’t many events.

“[Players] are staying in our hotels, and they’re going to restaurants and bars,” Garofano said.

The fact that it is a pond hockey tournament is also a draw to many players.

Greg Andrake, a New Jersey resident who played with the Glen Rock Panthers, said pond hockey reminds him of a time when he was growing up playing the game.

“It’s how we learned to play the game,” Andrake said.

The weather made playing a little more difficult, Andrake said, but his team made the championship game, so he said it didn’t seem to bother them much.

It also helps when your teammates are also your friends.

“It makes it more fun playing outside with friends,” Andrake said

What also makes pond hockey enjoyable is the laid-back nature of it. Players could be seen walking from rink to rink with a can of beer in their hand, chatting with family members and friends, and getting warm by the fire. Melancon also said it’s more relaxing to play when there isn’t a coach involved benching players for not playing well. And because of the elements, skill isn’t always what wins games.

“Heart wins games out here,” Melancon said.

Many of the players also enjoy the fact their friends and family can come hang out and watch them play. Melancon was excited over the fact his 2-year-old son, Gevarri, was able to be there and cheer him on.

“We’re usually bringing our kids to [to play] in games,” Melancon said as he held Gevarri. “Now they get to watch us.”

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