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Blades cut through winter elements

Oh, the weather outside has been frightful lately with Jack Frost definitely doing more than just nipping at people's noses.

Blizzard-like snow conditions. Whiteouts. Slick roads. Vehicles in ditches.

Ah, the sights and sounds of an upstate New York winter.

Of course it's better to be at home, reading or watching the winter-weather horror stories instead of being the ones providing first-hand accounts. Yet, sometimes that's just unavoidable -- especially when you're a hockey parent who has to get little Mikey to a game like the Wheatfield Blades' Squirt Minor team during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

The team's travel party, i.e. parents and coaches, braved the elements en route to the Syracuse Crunch Tournament. The normal 2 1/2 -hour trip turned into a winter-driving adventure lasting four hours for most, closer to six for others as single-lane traffic, wind and whiteout conditions turned the Thruway into, well, an ice rink filled with vehicles of all sizes, including 18-wheelers.

Blades coach and hockey dad Dan Mancuso recalls seeing people in ditches during his four-hour drive to the 'Cuse that day -- traveling at 40 mph. So too does Steve Christiano, the cousin of Buffalo Sabres Director of Pro Scouting Jon, whose trip took longer than expected.

Just when it seemed Christiano and his family were on the verge of making it to their destination safe and sound, that's when it happened.

"I started fish-tailing and spun around and wound up down in the center median thing," said Christiano, who was roughly 10 miles away from the rink when his car went off the road. "I had to be winched out. Wound up stuck there for an hour and a half. There were cars all around me. I've never done that before in all my years of driving. It's not really a steep incline but wound up buried in the snow. The worst part was waiting for someone to hit you from behind because you're kind of a sitting duck. We were off the road but if I did that I'm sure someone else could do it. It was scary but everyone was OK."

They're tough, too. The Christianos arrived in Syracuse in time for the Blades' second game of the day at 3 p.m., with 8-year-old Sam lacing them up with the rest of his teammates.

In all two vehicles slipped off the road during the Blades' trek. The good news is that no one got hurt in either mishap (Christiano was the only one to miss a game).

One would think it's kind of crazy to brave such elements for something as trivial as a hockey game, especially when school districts have been known to cancel after-school activities when threatening weather is expected. But to drive through threatening weather

"Hockey parents are probably the craziest of all parents," said Mancuso, speaking from first-hand experience. "You're doing this for the kids. If I had to do it again, I'd do it.

"We played some really good hockey and that's what travel hockey is all about."

Just remember to drive safely and leave early enough to prevent the need to push the pedal to the metal.

"In hindsight we probably should have left the night before because we knew the weather was going to be bad," Christiano said. "But it was all right. The things we do for love. It seems ridiculous but "

It's the life of a hockey parent.

"We've been spoiled rotten this winter," Mancuso said. "Everybody's been spoiled this winter. We just managed to catch the one day [it wasn't nice]."


WNY's rank and file

Another season, another season of being ranked nationally for the North Buffalo Bisons girls hockey team.

The 16-and-under squad coached by Scott Welch is ranked second in the United States in the poll. The Bisons are 25-12-2 and won the prestigious Connecticut Polar Bear Tournament's under-19 division.

Other usual suspects in the national rankings:

The 14-and-under Bisons' girls team is ranked No. 6, while the 12-and-under is No. 17.

The Buffalo Elite Midget Development Program's Buffalo Junior Sabres under-18 team is No. 14 and the squad's 16-and-under team ranks 13th.

The Buffalo Regals 14-and-under team is ranked 11th and the Regals' Pee Wee Minor ninth.

Buffalo Saints Bantam Minor is 10th.

West Seneca's Pee Wee majors stand 21st in the poll.


Around the boards

The USA Hockey Tier I Championships (under-12, under-14, under-16 and under-18) run March 28-April 1 at the Northtown Center in Amherst.

The Junior Sabres of the Ontario Hockey League host Burlington at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Northtown Center.


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