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Pond hockey for charity is a perfect fit in Lancaster

With the Buffalo Regals up 1-0 after the first period of a tournament championship Sunday, coach Glenn Shupe told his team of 9-year-old boys to gather around.

“I just told them they’ve got to keep playing their game, play strong, move the puck, get the shot,” he said. “The next goal is big.”

But this wasn’t one of the high-stakes, ultracompetitive tournaments at an indoor rink the Regals are used to. It was the seventh annual Tim Hortons Backyard Classic – a friendly, no contact “gentlemen’s contest” played in a wide-open field in Lancaster.

“This gives them a chance to have some fun, go out and skate and play on a pond where it all started,” Shupe said as the second period got underway.

That nostalgic allure of youthful days spent playing hockey outdoors is what drew 40 teams of 300 skaters to lace up for games on four rinks in addition to a sled hockey demonstration. Sunday’s picturesque weather of sunny skies with temperatures in the low 20s were “classic conditions for outdoor pond hockey,” said tournament coordinator Chris Taggart. “It brings hockey back to its roots,” he said. “Everybody loves outdoor pond hockey and the essence of where everybody started playing this game.”

For the third year, the tournament has been played behind the Angry Buffalo at the Rose Garden, the Wehrle Drive tavern and restaurant owned by Joe David.

“We really enjoy having the community come to our place here – great turnout, love to keep the money close to home,” he said.

Organizers were hoping to raise $20,000 from the weekend tournament. This year’s beneficiaries are blood donation and organ transplant group Unyts and the Buffalo Sabres sled hockey team, which was featured in two exhibitions. “One thing that’s really tough in our sport is to find the funding, since we’re a not-for-profit organization,” said Brad Emmerson, a player-coach on the sled hockey team. “Fundraisers are where we get all of our ice time from, all of our travel, hotels and everything else. And if we didn’t have that, we couldn’t play.”

In sled hockey, the players, whose legs have been affected by birth defect, disease or accidents, sit inches above the ice on aluminum sleds with skate blades attached to the bottoms. Each player carries two cutoff stick blades, using the metal teeth on one end to dig into the ice and skate, while using the blade end to stick-handle and shoot.

“It really is a very highly competitive, fun game to watch and participate in,” Emmerson said.

Defenseman Christian Storms was excited to compete outside for the first time after seeing National Hockey League players do it at the annual Winter Classic.

“At first, it was really cold and I was rethinking why I would want to do this,” said Storms, 18, of Jamestown. “But once you get out there and get warmed up, it’s really exciting.”

email: jpopiolkowski@buffnews.com