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Pond Hockey Tournament expected to draw more than 10,000; Snow couch makes its debut

A snow couch complete with flowers, human ice bowling and of course, the puck dropping on a three-day weekend of pond hockey featuring 144 teams and more than 1,000 players.

The action-packed Buffalo RiverWorks entertainment complex had it all going on Saturday as the ninth annual Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament drew plenty of hockey players, spectators and people out to just mingle and have fun.

More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the tournament, which ends Sunday night. Hockey players and their teams come from 13 states, including as far away as Arizona and California.

The debut of human ice bowling had many onlookers waiting Saturday evening for the excitement of seeing people sitting on snow saucers, with giant slingshots wrapped around their waists, who would be launched across the ice into a full set of large, inflatable, white bowling pins. Some would-be ice bowlers had to be turned away. Only 12 could participate, but another game is planned for 8 p.m. Sunday.

But even before seeing the pond hockey games played on six miniature rinks spread out over the two full-sized ice rinks, the giant snow couch, complete with a selfie stick at one end, was a magnet for many.

Even as the creation, which took three days to build, began a major meltdown, it still made its mark.

Anna Jacobi, 22, got right up on it with her family and friends and her brother, Joey Jacobi’s hockey team, named Not Average Joe’s.

“I wish it was a little drier,” she said with a grin. “It’s a little melty, and the 55-degree weather isn’t helping.”

But it was quite the attention-getter, even as night fell and the full moon shone high in the sky above the rink complex and the Labatt Blue towers.

Bjorgvin Saevarsson, who works for the Minneapolis-based Ubergrun company that makes sculptures with elements, was part of a two-man duo hired to design the snow couch. The project began last Tuesday, when Mother Nature had perfect timing with heavy snowfall.

By Saturday evening, Saevarsson said the couch had shrunk by one foot since Friday. He stood proudly next to it and watched tournament-goers get a kick out of climbing up to it, and having their pictures taken as they sat atop three wool blankets he had laid on the couch. “My tears will be the thing that melt this,” he said. Off to the side, two small woven rugs hung over a nearby fence to dry. “It’s been a giant hit.”

Because the wind was so strong, his plan to have red and orange roses at the edge of the couch didn’t work out. He had to leave them in his car. Instead, he placed artificial orange and yellow flowers in miniature vases on the sculpture.

Originally, a snow slide was crafted for gutsy ones to go down after sitting on the couch. “But then someone said hockey players, beer and a slide equal pain, so we changed it into steps Thursday night before the event,” said Saevarsson, a native of Iceland.

But he was determined to keep the couch, on slouching snow steps, through the weekend.

“We’re battling the elements in Buffalo, but stubbornness sometimes beats nature,” he said. “Plus, people here in Buffalo are the nicest on earth.”

The action off the ice was just as noteworthy, with fans and the curious coming to check out the action and just enjoy one another’s company.

Jerry and Frances Giglio of Hamburg were a prime example. It was their first time to Buffalo RiverWorks and to see the pond hockey tournament. They loved what they saw.

“We came to take a look around,” Jerry Giglio said. “It’s a nice evening, and we thought why not take a drive and see what it’s all about?”

The Buffalo Police versus Buffalo Fire exhibition hockey game had a strong following. Buffalo Fire Capt. Wendy Hartman brought her twin daughters and son to watch her husband, Steve Hartman, also a firefighter, play in the game. “It’s going to be a tight match, but we’re going to root for Fire,” she said, as her husband skated onto the ice, waving his right hockey glove at his three children. “It’s a long-standing rivalry.”

Hockey player Christina Weber, 33, of Eden stood with fellow player Brandi Sharratt of Buffalo, watching from the rink balcony after playing earlier in the day. “It’s a good place to be able to experience Buffalo,” Weber said of the event.

The tournament – with teams playing four-on-four with no goalie in two, 13-minute halves – has come a long way since its 2008 start at the Erie Basin Marina, when a few times, the ice on Lake Erie was not thick enough to hold safe hockey games and one year, had to be held as street hockey.

“Unfortunately, Buffalo is not as cold as one would think,” said Gina Heine, associate brand manager for Labatt Blue.

“But the mild weather this year has been great, and now, we don’t have to worry about the ice. We have guaranteed ice. We have groups get together for the event, and everyone sits and celebrates the weekend together.”