INLET--Inlet will soon see the return of the Adirondack Ice Bowl pond hockey tournament. Now in its fifth year, the tournament will take place Friday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Jan. 26, on Fourth Lake in front of The Woods Inn.
This is the inn's fourth year as host. Play is scheduled to begin Friday morning and end with the championship games Saturday evening under the lights. The tournament will be followed by an awards ceremony.
The event has come along way since its first year and has grown into a full-fledged hockey extravaganza.
"We have 36 teams in the Open division and eight teams in the 40 Plus division. With the early start to winter and the amount of ice we have on the lakes already, we are looking for a great 2014 event," says organizer Shaun Brennan.
Last year, 48 teams competed in the tournament, with a total of 288 players taking to the ice over the course of the weekend. Many of the teams are from the Utica area and the Mohawk Valley, but some come from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and beyond. Teams have come from as far away as Norway.
Although the number of teams has climbed steadily over the years, the tournament is maxed out at this point, according to Brennan. With games taking place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, there is no room in the schedule to accommodate more teams.
With four rinks set up on the lake, there are often multiple games going on at once. The non-stop play definitely is the backbone of the weekend tournament.
The fun will be shared with the next generation of hockey players as well. From 12:30 to 2 p.m. Saturday, 85 players ages five through eight from the Clinton Youth Hockey program's "Mites" division will take to the ice for their own mini-tournament.
"The idea behind this is to show the kids what it's like to play outdoors, which is where the sport got its start," says Brennan.
Besides being a serious hockey lover's event, there is an infectious party atmosphere. There's plenty of eating, socializing and live music. Concessions are on-site in a heated tent, which also features live music both during the day and at night over the course of the weekend.
Besides the Ice Shanty on the lake offering hot cocoa, cold beer and snacks, on-ice amenities have been expanded this year. There will also be a hockey village on the ice with souvenirs and vendors offering cigars, roasted peanuts and more.
Every year there are some things that get a little easier for the organizers, freeing up time for them to try new ideas and add new things. Now that the event has grown so much, Brennan says there's no way they can run the event and still have time to compete.
"Of course not. When it gets bigger and bigger, it's less likely that you can play in it," he said.
Beside keeping things on track during the event itself, buddies Jim O'Brien, Daniel O'Brien, Gary Zalewski, Alex MacDiarmid, Eric MacDiarmid, Matthew Hayes and Brennan have been making preparations for months now. They monitor the ice on Fourth Lake every weekend from Christmas right through the event, using formulas and guidelines issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, to ensure players and fans will be safe.
The tournament is open to the public and admission is free. Parking is available near The Wood's Inn and around Inlet.
Organizers still need more volunteers for the weekend. Anyone who wants to help out or who is looking for more information about the event can visit www.adirondackicebowl.com.