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Win or lose, it's bonding that counts at pond hockey tournament

Ken Diorio was back in Buffalo for the Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament this weekend, sharing good times with his teammates before playing their third game on Sunday at Buffalo RiverWorks.

The Niagara University graduate moved away from the area in 2009, and now lives in Raleigh, N.C.

"You don't necessarily come here to try and take home the trophy," Diorio said. "You're coming here to spend a weekend with some buddies, and to experience the awesome facility and awesome area that has been rejuvenated tenfold since I was back."

About 850 novice, intermediate, advanced and elite-level hockey players participated in the hockey tournament, with four to seven players on each of the 135 teams. Each team played three round-robin games, with the winners moving on to the playoffs.

While there are no statistics on how many players participated from outside Western New York, 13 team captains came from other states, two from as far away as Texas.

George Singarella drove from North Canton, Ohio, to play with his team of Ohioans. They play in a beer league together, and had waited several years to gain entrance to the Buffalo tournament, where their team, Pond Scum, played in the over-50 division.

Hotels also saw increased business for the three-day tournament, according to Sean Green, RiverWorks' director of athletics and sponsorship.

"The tournament has kind of become a Buffalo tradition, and for people who have moved away it's become a tradition for them," Green said. "We'll get emails and phone calls starting next week for next year's dates and times."

The tournament began on the Buffalo River, but the uncertainty of when it would freeze wreaked havoc with scheduling.

The move to RiverWorks six years ago, with its six rinks, gave a certainty to the event.

Some players brooded a little on their teams' disappointing play, but said the overall experience more than compensated.

"We're too old and not good enough to be in the 30 and older advanced," said Steve Smith of Lancaster.

"It didn't go well today or yesterday," he said, before adding, "but it's still good times and a great event."

"We've lost worst," Bill Aungst said of his team's 21-17 score. "It's still a great time."

The refreshments – including what was supplied by the event's lead sponsor – had a lot to do with the atmosphere.

"It's nice being with the boys," Brian Lux of South Buffalo said. "Whether we win or lose, we're always going to have some beers, and that's a big part of it."

Rob Strickler, of Brant, said the tournament was special because it was the only time of the year he played with the men on his team.

"It's something on the calendar we all look forward to," Strickler said.

That view was echoed by Dan Spellman of East Amherst.

"In the winter in Buffalo you need something to look forward to, and have a good time and hang out with the guys," he said.

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