LAKE PLACID - CAN/AM Hockey is back in town. Hockey moms and dads are either here or en route with cars full of hockey sticks and young athletes for the first of many tournaments the group has scheduled in March.
The first tournament began with its opening ceremony Thursday night and will end late Sunday. Games will be played at both the Olympic Center here and the Civic Center in Saranac Lake. In all, CAN/AM officials said 41 youth teams will take to the ice on a total of four rinks.
Courtney Przestrzelskim, a hockey mom and CAN/AM tournament representative from Montclair, N.J., drove up on Thursday and was preparing her team the Montclair Blues, squirt division, for the tournament schedule ahead.
Players taking part in the CAN/AM youth hockey tournaments this weekend participate in the opening ceremonies Thursday night at the Olympic Center. (Photo — Matthew Turner)
"A couple people came up last night," Przestrzelskim said. "I'm the first today."
Her team will make stops at both arenas throughout the tournament.
"We've been looking forward to this since last year," she said. "The kids are very excited, the parents maybe more."
Cliff Brown, program director at CAN/AM, said the opening ceremony is one of his favorite aspects of the tournament.
"We're going to be lighting the big torch on the ice," Brown said. "People love it."
Andy Bodner, a hockey dad from Morristown, N.J., was at the opening ceremony Thursday.
"We've done other tournaments before, but it's our first time here," Bodner said. "It's fantastic to be a part of it. The kids on this arena will remember it forever."
Kevin Wellhausen, a CAN/AM event manager, was at the Olympic Center Thursday coordinating the event. He said the tournament is themed around the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake?Placid.
"The entire concept revolves around it," Wellhausen said. "I think it's a totally unique experience for the kids. What we do at CAN/AM, they'll never have another experience like it wherever they play."
Every division is named after a past Winter Olympic host city. CAN/AM was founded eight months after the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Pierre Bouchard, who played for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s, will visit Friday.
"He'll be signing autographs," Brown said. "He will have his Stanley Cup rings on display."
Brown said the tournament season from October 2013 to April 2014 brings around 428 youth teams to Lake Placid, about 6,420 players and roughly 12,000 family and friends.
No local teams from Lake Placid or Saranac Lake are participating in the tournament. Other upcoming CAN/AM tournaments are scheduled on March 13-16, March 20-23 and March 27-30. CAN/AM also plans to be in Lake Placid for six weeks in spring and six weeks in fall.
On Sunday, the tournament will conclude with a ceremony for the champions. Gold, silver and bronze medals will be handed out for the winners in all eight divisions.