On a mid-August day, the city of Rochester didn’t want to wait until the Fall to drop the puck. So with the help of the Bill Gray’s Iceplex, the Rochester Americans, sponsors, vendors and volunteers, the Iceplex hosted the 2nd Annual Amerks Street HockeyFest a street hockey tournament held throughout the day with varying age divisions from mites all the way to midgets.
Rob Kopacz, Vice President of Business Operations for the Americans, was excited to see such a tremendous turnout at the Iceplex. “For the Amerks it is nice to see so much enthusiasm for hockey in the summertime. Obviously we play in the winter and got a lot of loyal fans but the fact that we got fans in the mood for hockey in the middle of August is great.” Kopacz said.
Chris Woodworth, Director of Programming and Marketing at the Iceplex, was the mastermind behind this event. He explained how the Iceplex was a more ideal location for an event such as this compared to in front of Frontier Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings of the International League (AAA).
“Our location is centralized, our layout is a little bit better, we have a huge facility where people can go inside a full restaurant, free skating, more restrooms more convenient for people,” Woodworth said.
“Programming in the past was pretty much non-existent. Customers and pretty much anybody here can say that something as simple as public skating didn’t occur here. Now our adult leagues are growing tremendously, our youth program
is getting bigger, our birthday programs are getting very popular and the same with our learn-to-skate programs.”
Woodworth also said that there will be a grand re-opening for the Iceplex slated for November 1, 2 and 3 of this year.
“Our goal is to get anybody who has ever heard of our facility before and find a way to attain them one way or another. Six months from now we are already planning our own Winter Classic along with having a wine tasting event, pond hockey tournament and much more.”
Woodworth explained how having time to layout an idea along with building connections was crucial in having HockeyFest come to fruition. “This event has shown of what you can do with some planning and having the Amerks work with us to pull a lot of sponsors. A lot of these people call our facility home and have seen that there is a lot of collaboration instead of in the past where there was a lot of arguing.”
“Streetfest last year at Frontier Field really only had the tournament itself, some music and a little bit of food. This year we had so many different vendors, a DJ, face-painting for the kids, free skating inside and a full service restaurant that really helps cater to the whole family.”
Woodworth also said that the Iceplex is looking to extend HockeyFest to a two-or-three day event, including a live concert and room for more vendors.Even though the event took place in Rochester, there was sure to be some Buffalo Sabres alumni floating around the festival and as fate may have it, Ric Seiling represented the Alumni Association while participating in an exhibition game against the Rochester police department, captained by former Rochester
American great Jody Gage.
Seiling as of 2005 has been the color commentator for the Amerks alongside longtime play-by-play Don Stevens and is also actively involved with the Sabres Alumni Association. “The parent club in Buffalo I know has been doing this for a few years so it is nice to see some of that spill over here and everyone here has done a great job putting this together with quite a lot of teams for its first year.” Seiling said.
Seiling also remarked that he enjoyed the experienced, but when told that he hasn’t lost a step, he replied. “Oh I’ve lost a lot of steps.”
All jokes aside, Seiling also commented on how this event will greatly benefit the growth of hockey year-round as Street Hockeyfest has for the city of Buffalo. “You know in the summertime it’s a long time without a game and this is a great event to help the kids and getting everyone to have fun. We’ve learned from whatBuffalo has done over the last couple of years with their festival and have incorporated it into here.”
Seiling also talked about what this event means to him personally. “It’s fun. You ask any retired player from my era and they’ll say the one thing that they miss is the camaraderie. The camaraderie of the dressing room, playing the
game and the challenges it brings when you’re playing it. It brings a little bit of it back and provides the opportunity to meet and talk to other people and play with them and have a good time.”
His wingman Don Stevens, who will begin his 28th season behind the mic for Rochester in October, was the MC throughout the afternoon. Stevens kept the patrons at the Iceplex informed of tournament results, updates on upcoming
events and even did some play-by-play of the exhibition game.
Stevens praised the event in general, saying that it is a great tool in promoting the game in the area during Summer.
“Well it’s certainly having a presence here in the off-season and a lot of kids are having fun and it reminds them that what regular season is going to be like. It also gives us a chance to promote some things that will be coming up.” Stevens said. “It’s sort of fun you know to be out here playing hockey in sunglasses.”
Stevens also provided some playful barbs towards Gage and Seiling following the exhibition game along with seeing some old and new faces. “Well they were breathing real hard, we get them in the alumni games and I get a kick out of it. I mean I can laugh at it since I don’t play anymore but it was nice to see them being good sports about it and have a good time and having the fans enjoy watching them.”
“It’s kind of fun to get to know some some of the people and the people that I haven’t seen since the season along with seeing the kids here and give them the chance to meet me it’s great.”
Now with a festival such as this, there would have to be a company there to provide some top-line equipment available for purchase to meet the needs of every player of every skill level. Locker Room Sports, located at the Iceplex along
with their main location on 2184 West Ridge Road in Rochester, was up to the task.
Owner Graeme Low was enthusiastic about being able to promote the store and their latest products at the festival. ‘This is a rare chance to unveil new equipment. We debuted the new Ripcore sticks that came out just the day before (Aug 16) and we’re giving the kids a chance to feel them and try them out,” Low said. “It’s a great treat. I could be back in my store knocking myself out, this is just a great opportunity to work with kids of all ages.”
Locker Room Sports supplies equipment for most of the youth hockey organizations in the city, including Tri-County, Rochester Grizzlies, Rochester Youth and Monroe County. One of the rather unique treats offered at HockeyFest was a stand that featured two members of the Rochester Roller Girls promoting their league called ROC City Roller Derby.
The league is the first of its kind in Rochester, debuting in 2008 that is an all-female league that plays on a flat, oval-shaped track. Karma~lized, a member of the Midtown Maulers, responded when asked if roller derby’s presence in Rochester is abundant. “Well it’s not as big as it should be.”
“People think of roller derby like your grandma’s roller derby when it’s fake and staged, and that’s not the case anymore. We’re trying to show that we’re athletes, not entertainers.” Karma also discussed on the chances of having roller derby as an attraction for next year’s festival. “Actually I’m hoping so. I took a picture of this event and sent it to our board members and see if next year we can have a little roller derby tournament here,
that would be my expectation.”
“It is absolutely wonderful to be out here and being able to teach people about roller derby and it does exist locally here in Rochester.”
There are currently six teams for roller derby in Rochester. The B-Sides, 5-H8-5s, Rottenchesters, Roc Quarry, Roc Stars and the aforementioned Midtown Maulers. More information can be found on their website at rocderby.com.
With a tremendous backing from vendors, organizations, volunteers, along with the people who showed up and participated, this year’s HockeyFest proved that with a little ingenuity and proper planning, hockey can even be appealing on a hot August day.