Annual outdoor hockey tourney expected to draw thousandsWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Goalie Cole Kaestner took a slap shot to the head a week before Christmas during a practice session with his youth team Compuware.
The concussion forced Cole, 14, to take it easy over the holidays, but with enough rest he should be up and playing for his only home game Jan. 4 at the Winter Chill Outdoor Hockey Festival, said his mother, Sarah Kaestner of Whitehouse.
“It was horrible. He couldn’t do much of anything. It affected his vision,” his mom said of the hit Cole took on Dec. 20. “After a week with no symptoms, he should be good to go.”
Cole’s team is one of more than 100 teams who will participate during two weekends – Jan. 3-5 and 10-12 – in the fifth annual hockey tournament at the outdoor Ottawa Park Ice Rink in Toledo.
“This event is so popular for our client base, we’ve been sold out since July,” said organizer David Austin of Playmaker Sports USA. “We have 58 games scheduled over the two weekends and over 100 different teams from Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and West Pennsylvania. This year, it’s pretty amazing.
“With an average roster of 15 to 18 players on a team, that’s 1,800 kids [ages 10-18] coming to Toledo for no other reason than to play a hockey game.”
That number doesn’t include parents, siblings and other spectators. Austin estimated that more than 10,000 people “coming and going” will crowd the rink over the two-weekend event.
“Teams come early. Teams stay late. They tailgate,” Austin said. “It’s a wonderful atmosphere. There might be 200 people (at a time) watching the game.”
Teams typically pay $350-400 to play a game, Austin said, most of which goes toward infrastructure. Playmaker Sports will erect tents for 10 outdoor, heated locker rooms because Ottawa Park rink has only one locker room.
Teams are matched up based on skill level for a competitive balance, Austin said. The match-ups have produced some “neat” pairings like a Southern Ohio team competing against a Western Michigan team, Austin said.
A few local teams are competing, including the Toledo Cherokee and Sylvania North Stars.
Mike Bugert, the manager of a Sylvania North Stars bantam team for 13-year-olds, said his team is paired up with Compuware team out of Plymouth, Mich., for what should be a great nighttime game.
“Over the years we’ve played [Compuware],” Bugert said. “It will be a good match-up.”
The outdoor ice rink at 2200 W. Bancroft St. is the only open air ice rink in Northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, according to its website. It has a “chiller,” a Zamboni and lights for nighttime skating. Spectators can sit outside or inside and buy food and drink from a concession stand.
“This festival will celebrate hockey in its purest form: outside, in the elements, with plenty of fun and memories for the players,” Austin’s website states. “Teams can sign up to play one game or two on the regulation-size outdoor rink, complete with boards, glass and lights.”
The outdoor rink provides a more traditional form of hockey that parents, players and organizers alike say is more enjoyable than indoor hockey.
“It’s cool because the kids have a good time with [the tournament] and the setting is more intimate,” Sarah Kaestner said. “We are right on top of the players. We can hear them talking. It was pretty cool, to be outside…the hot chocolate… the cold…it’s really cool.”
“It’s definitely a different experience to play outdoors,” Bugert said. “It’s just really a lot of fun.”
Austin said the outdoor experience brings him back to his childhood. Youth players today are more structured in their play, he said, and he wants to give them the outdoor experience he had with the ice beneath their skates, the wind in their face and the sky overhead.
“The greatest thing about this event is watching the faces of kids who come off the ice,” Austin said. “Their looks are exactly the same, like, that was the coolest thing ever. They love every minute of it. Teams are there every single year who wouldn’t miss it.”
Playing outdoors does pose some risks. Last year, a warming trend cut down the event to one weekend, Austin said.
“This is something we love to do but at same time it’s our biggest headache because the one thing we cannot control is the weather,” he said. “If we get a warm trend — high 40s to low 50s — then we can’t play and have to disappoint a lot of people.”
This year, a weather forecast for the Jan. 3-5 weekend shows an average temperature of 24 degrees, low enough to keep everyone happy.
As coaches and players prepared for the tournament, many said their eyes would be turned to Ann Arbor’s Big House, where the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs faced off in the NHL’s annual outdoor game on Jan. 1.
“It’s a huge hockey day,” Austin said.
“I’m sure we’ll be watching,” Bugert said.
“We’ll absolutely be watching,” Sarah Kaestner said. “It’s our family’s New Year’s day tradition.”
A few days after the accident, Cole said he was feeling better – a few more days of rest and he would be ready to hit the ice.
“You just get more excited [to play in the tournament],” Cole said. “You look forward to it. It’s different. You only get to do it once a year.”
Tags: Cole Kaestner, Compuware, David Austin, hockey, Mike Bugert, Ottawa Park Ice Rink, Playmaker Sports USA, Sarah Kaestner, Sylvania North Stars, Toledo Cherokee, Winter Chill Outdoor Hockey Festival