While the city of Syracuse painted its traditional green stripe down the St. Patrick's parade route and decorated floats for the big downtown event, many Central New York hockey families decorated car windows with bright purple, red, blue, yellow or white paint to spell out player's names, numbers and duplicate team logos. You could easily spot the hockey family in their overstuffed vehicles on the thruway heading west. It was my 4th , the Pepsi Hockey Invitationals 34th year, for the tournament in Buffalo. It's always a big draw for many youth hockey organizations looking for a memorable way to end the long season. It's well-run with games that run pretty much on schedule. The rinks are roomy and able to comfortable accommodate teams and guests. Hotels are close to both the Holiday and Leisure Rinks. They're easy to find and a short drive to city attractions to keep families entertained during the off-ice times. This year the team manager set us up in the Hampton Inn. Great choice! We were worried because of the small-sized pool, but it worked out well since games were staggered throughout the day. Even though the place was packed with hockey families, the pool never overflowed with children. Unlike others, this hotel rolled out the red carpet for hockey families, greeting us with gift bags and letting our kids play knee-hockey in the lobby. You still had to sign the standard, 'we promise to behave' agreement, but there was lots of breathing room. We even got to set up a party room for the kids to watch movies and play video games. It was refreshing to be so welcomed with a hotel that understood how rambunctious kids can get , when they're all together after a hard fought hockey game. As long as we parents kept them somewhat in line, they were cool.
I've always looked forward to these end-of -the- year tournaments for several reasons. It's not all about the wins...at all. There have been some years in which my son's team has taken home a first or second place prize and sure..that was exciting. But what else do you think he remembers most about all those tournaments? It wasn't what happened from one period to the next, or who got the game-winning goal. It's all those times with his good buddies...roaming the halls without parents right behind, sneaking those rides in the luggage cart, the cannonball contests in the mega-sized pool and so much more. So much more. His Lake Placid tournament, by far, was the best. I need to post more photos from that!
My daughter's team didn't get to take home the hardware this tournament, but check out the video below. Just like my son's team, they too shared many terrific times they'll always remember and got to enjoy a weekend together, having fun and just being kids!