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Condorstown Winterfest in Bakersfield deemed a rousing success

 

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Hockey fans may have seen the widely-circulated video of the Bakersfield Condors and Ontario Reign playing though a heavy rainstorm in their outdoor game on Jan. 7 and assumed that the entirety of Bakersfield’s Three-Way Chevrolet Condorstown Winterfest was a wash.

That was hardly the case, though, as the weather was clear for most of the 18-day event, and tournament organizers say the various amateur tournaments held during those two-plus weeks were a rousing success.

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The series of tournaments were run by International Hockey Events, produced by Golden State Hockey Rush and hosted by the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors. Sanctioned by USA Hockey, they ran from Dec. 21-Jan. 7, with a pair of two-day breaks for Christmas and New Year’s. There was a session before Christmas for adult teams, followed by Midget and high school competition, and divisions for 10U, 12U and 14U between Dec. 26-31.

“Absolutely my expectations were exceeded on the quality of the ice, which of course is the most important thing,” said Barry Sherer, the managing director of International Hockey Events. “We were extremely fortunate from a tournament standpoint, because we really only had one day of significant rain, and we played five straight games through the rain, with very few issues whatsoever.”

With any outdoor hockey game, the elements can be a factor, but in many ways, that adds to the appeal of the events. By the time Griffin Reinhart scored the overtime game-winner for the Condors on Jan. 7, the rink at Bakersfield College’s Memorial Stadium was dry and puddle free, and there was only one other day of rain during the amateur tournaments.

Sherer said the ice held up well to the rain, and a bigger challenge for players not used to skating outdoors was the sun in a few of the mid-day games. In at least one game, the teams switched sides in the middle of the third period to make it fair for the goalies who were battling the glare reflecting off the ice.

Otherwise, it was a fun and unique experience for so many players from California to get to play outdoors for the first time in their lives. Unlike kids growing up in Boston, Minnesota and Canada, young hockey players in the Golden State don’t spend winter afternoons and weekends skating on frozen ponds or in backyard rinks.

“I can’t count how many emails, text messages and phone messages I received from coaches telling me what a great time their kids had,” Sherer said. “So many people have sent me pictures. You know it’s a successful tournament when teams that didn’t win their divisions are taking pictures at center ice after their last game. The players, coaches and families really enjoyed it.”

There were seven division champions crowned at the tournament. The Capital Thunder took home the high school varsity gold title, and the Utah Jr. Grizzlies won the high school varsity silver division. The California Heat was the only program to win two banners, topping the 16U AA and 14U A divisions. The OC Hockey Club’s team, coached by Scott Shand, won the 14U AA title, the Ontario Eagles captured the 12U A crown and the Jr. Condors’ BB team was the 10U champ.

Sherer said he’s already in the planning stages for a series of outdoor tournaments during the holidays in 2017-18, and is planning to take the concept to the L.A. area. He believes that by moving the tournaments around the state from year to year – the events were in Sacramento last year, and could be in San Diego in future years – it ensures that the novelty of playing outdoor games doesn’t wear off in one location.

“I think that’s how you keep it fresh,” Sherer said. “I think if you were in the same location year after year, it wouldn’t have the same appeal.”

— Greg Ball