CAN/AM pond hockey tourney brings 22 teams to Placid

A Neutral Zone player gives a thumbs up during the 2021 CAN/AM Pond Hockey Tournament on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid. (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — Another CAN/AM Hockey tournament, albeit a strange one, is in the books.

The CAN/AM Pond Hockey Tournament was hosted in Lake Placid from Friday, Feb. 26 to Sunday, Feb. 28. The event was rescheduled from its original early February date after a tractor prepping the ice for the tournament fell through the Mirror Lake ice on Jan. 31.

This year’s tournament was unusual. The number of players was cut down to less than a third of what’s typical. In all, 130 players on 22 teams participated this year, down from about 97 teams normally, according to CAN/AM Hockey Director Eric Chapman.

With the ongoing closure of the U.S.-Canada border because of the coronavirus pandemic, it was more “Am” than “Can-Am” this year. Canadian players and tournament staff were unable to attend. And because of ongoing quarantine and test requirements, most of the teams were from New York and surrounding states.

The weather over the weekend further put a damper on the tournament. Rainfall and above-freezing tournaments forced organizers to cancel championship games on Sunday. This part isn’t too abnormal.

“We’ve seen lots of different weather for this event,” Chapman said. “Sometimes it’s significant enough that it forces us onto the (Olympic Speedskating Oval) as a backup. But that was not an option for us this year because of COVID. Every year weather seems to be a challenge.

“You need a perfect combination of weather from start to finish to pull this event off. You can’t predict that. You put it on the calendar and do your best.”

Despite it all, Chapman said players were happy to be back on the ice.

“The teams that participated were just super glad to be able to play,” he said. “For them, that opportunity to come, get out on the ice and play and do something that felt pretty normal, I know they appreciated that and enjoyed that. The weather wasn’t the greatest for the weekend, but that didn’t seem to really have an impact on the guys.”

Though the championships were canceled, organizers awarded gold medal plaques to the MCFR Hooligans, McKie Sports, Toga Chiefs and the Neps based on stats.

All the players were required to wear masks while playing, and CAN/AM required all players to adhere to state guidance on testing and quarantines. Photos from the event show multiple players playing without masks on, or wearing masks improperly. Some residents raised concern about players not wearing masks during group photos, and Chapman acknowledged that it was what he considered the “riskiest” part of the event.

“From our point of view, we had asked players to wear their masks while they were playing,” Chapman said. “If a player says they can’t wear it because of health issues, that’s a difficult thing for us to enforce. From our point of view, we did out best to socially distance, and everybody inside had to wear masks. The riskiest part of the event was the group shots and that lasted for a brief time.”

Organizers consulted with Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall, North Elba town Supervisor Jay Rand and the county health department ahead of the event, according to Chapman.

“I had no information that there was any contrary event that came of (the tournament),” Randall said Monday, March 1, when asked how he felt the event had gone. “We met before the event last week. The purpose was to reiterate the fact that we were going to be watching very closely from an administrative standpoint. It was a relatively small event this year by comparison. About a quarter of what they’d normally had. Those staying in hotels followed guidelines.

“This year’s event was pretty quiet, and hopefully a year from now we’ll get to something normal.”

Despite the modified roster, the tournament still brought a rush of people to the village, both players and spectators. Main Street was packed this past weekend.

Peter Holderied, village trustee and owner of the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, said his hotel — which hosts a lot of pond hockey players each year — was “really busy.”

“We were slightly behind in December and January relative to last year, but we’re now slightly ahead from last February at the Golden Arrow,” Holderied said. “All in all, not bad.”

Chapman said CAN/AMHockey is currently in the middle of a five-year contract to host tournaments in Lake Placid.

“Our goal is just to continue on with this event,” he said. “It’s a really popular one, both from players’ point of view and Lake Placid’s point of view. We plan to keep doing it as long as Mother Nature lets us.”

The tournament comes weeks after the National Women’s Hockey League ended its shortened season a day before playoffs were to begin at the Olympic Center during a “bubble” season that was plagued with COVID-19 cases.

As of Wednesday, March 3, there was no evidence that players might’ve been exposed to the coronavirus at the pond hockey event. If they were, they would likely start to experience symptoms sometime this week. The incubation period for the virus ranges between two to 14 days, and most people start experiencing symptoms around five days after an exposure. Public health officials have asked that anyone who thinks they could have COVID-19 self-isolate and get tested. Asymptomatic cases are also possible. Generally, health officials recommend getting tested one week after a potential exposure. For more information, visit online at www.co.essex.ny.us/health/covid-19-information-and-resources.