CAN/AM Hockey, a Lake Placid staple, regroups amid virus

Youth athletes gather for an opening ceremony at the Olympic Center during a CAN/AM Hockey tournament. (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — The CAN/AM Hockey Group based in Wisconsin is regrouping after canceling its final events at the Olympic Center this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Director Eric Chapman.

Speaking by phone Thursday, May 14, Chapman talked about how the pandemic has affected his business, employees and customers — youth and adult hockey players from the U.S. and Canada.

CAN/AM Hockey has been holding tournaments in Lake Placid since 1980.

“We’ve gone from having just a handful of events during the shoulder season to having now 11 or 13 weeks of events in the fall and the spring,” said Chapman, who has worked for CAN/AM Hockey for the past 26 years. It’s a family business founded founded by his parents, Bob and Ann Murch 51 years ago.

The CAN/AM Hockey season begins in October and continues through the spring with youth tournaments. It includes a Pond Hockey Tournament in January in Lake Placid and ends with summer camps at various locations.

CAN/AM Hockey Group Director Eric Chapman poses on Mirror Lake in January 2014 during the annual Pond Hockey Tournament. (News photo - Andy Flynn)

Earlier this month, the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees approved a five-year contract extension for CAN/AM Hockey to use Mirror Lake for the annual Pond Hockey Tournament.

In addition to Lake Placid, host cities for CAN/AM Hockey events include Atlantic City, Austin, Texas; Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Madison, Wisconsin; Montreal and Toronto.

“Each location kind of has its own personality,” Chapman said. “Lake Placid is our largest event location, the one we’ve been at the longest. So the relationships we have with Lake Placid –the people, vendors and hotels — those are some pretty deep, long-term personal relationships.”

COVID-19 pandemic

Players participate in the annual CAN/AM Pond Hockey Tournament on Mirror Lake in January 2014. (News photo - Andy Flynn)

The CAN/AM Hockey season was cut short in Lake Placid in mid-March due to the pandemic. Their final event at the Olympic Center was held March 5-8 before the state Olympic Regional Development Authority closed its venues the following weekend.

“There were three youth events that got canceled,” Chapman said. “That period of time, that one week, with the uncertainty and not knowing what was going on and trying to do what we felt was best — not only for our customers but for Lake Placid and for the business … it was so bewildering.”

A special hockey tournament (April 23-26) and Family Weekend Clinic (June 19-21) in Lake Placid were canceled, along with tournaments in Nashville (May 29-31) and Atlantic City (June 5-7).

While the summer camps have not been canceled, that is still a possibility.

“At this point, very few people canceled (for summer camps),” Chapman said. “They’re all hopeful that they can get back to some sense of normality. Whether that’s possible or not, we still don’t know.”

The biggest thing CAN/AM Hockey employees are dealing with right now, according to Chapman, is the uncertainty.

“Very quickly we transitioned from canceling the events and refunding all of the money that we had taken in, to planning for next season,” he said.

For CAN/AM employees, that means some notable changes. Chapman lives in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, with his wife and three sons and is working from home during the pandemic.

“We have remote employees to begin with, so we were pretty well prepared to just move everybody remotely,” he said. “And having run events all over the place, the technology we had for CAN/AM to do that was in place, which was helpful.”

With no revenue at the moment, there haven’t been any layoffs. However, employees are making sacrifices to keep the business afloat. There have been reduced salaries across the board, according to Chapman.

“Our goal with our employees is just to try and weather the storm and see how long we can make it should group and event business not come back quickly,” he said.

Even though the staff is dealing with the uncertainty — marked by a patchwork of different coronavirus mandates across multiple cities and states and two countries — Chapman said this is no time to shelter in place; they need to “act with some initiative.”

“It’s a bit of a challenge. It’s a struggle. It’s a concern,” he said. “From a personal point of view, this is my livelihood. If getting together with people and doing activities like playing hockey and travel and everything that goes with that is compromised for a really long period of time, anybody that’s associated with this kind of business is going to be in trouble.”

People are looking forward to a “new normal” once this pandemic is over.

“The goal is to figure out what that is and how you fit into that,” Chapman said.

Lake Placid a good fit

The next season for CAN/AM Hockey in Lake Placid is scheduled to begin Oct. 22 with youth tournaments. Chapman said the Olympic Village seems to be a good fit for the business, the hockey players and their families.

“We run events in other locations, but they’re just not quite the same because you’re running a small event in a big city versus running a big event in a small town,” he said. “Between the physical setup of Lake Placid, a small town that happens to have access to four ice surfaces is pretty unusual. Also Lake Placid is a resort community, so the amenities that they have to offer for our guests are already something our guests are interested in doing.”

Tournaments are held on the the three rinks at the Olympic Center and the Saranac Lake Civic Center. These venues, plus CAN/AM Hockey’s history with Tri-Lakes residents and businesses, make hosting tournaments in Lake Placid more personal for Chapman.

“I haven’t been in Las Vegas for the past 26 years,”he said, “whereas Lake Placid is my home away from home.”

Customers missing hockey

CAN/AM Hockey’s customers understand why there have been cancellations, yet overwhelmingly, Chapman has found that the biggest sentiment among hockey players and their families is disappointment.

“For these guests, it’s a big deal,” he said. “You can’t minimize how important that tournament is to that individual player coming to Lake Placid, and that whole experience that they’ll have. We’re running tournaments, but for a lot of these customers– particularly the young guys — this is potentially the most memorable sporting event that they will participate in as an amateur athlete.”

For more information about CAN/AM Hockey, visit www.canamhockey.com.