The puck dropped at 8 a.m. Friday morning for the 2018 Bauer Fire On Ice, and while it is still in the early round-robin stages, coaches have been impressed by the level of play across the 10 tournament arenas. With more than 100 teams, this year’s event has started the weekend off strong.

Chris Eitel, coach of the U-14 Springfield Jr. Thunderbirds, made the trek west to Rochester, New York, competing in the Fire on Ice tournament for the first time.

“We’ve actually traveled to Toronto, we’ve been other places in Canada, we’ve been to Rhode Island; we’ve been all over the place but first time here,” said Eitel. “Heard some good things about this tournament and research showed there was some good competition, so we decided to come.”

Plenty of factors go into coaches’ and managers’ decisions to take their teams to tournaments throughout the season. What’s important to one may not be important to another, but one common component amongst coaches is the competition level of a tournament.

“Good competition, competitive teams, right placement for the girls,” said Eitel. “I don’t want to come here and dominate and I don’t want to come here and get killed. two-goal, one-goal games are great games, I’d rather coach one of those than be in something else.”

But why wouldn’t a team want to just come and dominate, steam-roll the field and go home with a trophy? Well, there’s more to a weekend tournament than the hardware.

“It’s an opportunity for us to see where we stand,” said Shawn Caroccio. “We’re trying to make a run for state-bound teams for tier-II tournament-bound girls. This gives us an idea of where we stand with other teams around.”

Caroccio, coach of the Oswego U-14 squad, said the tournament serves as a measuring stick to see how his team stacks up to other teams across North America.

Fire on Ice — convenient for Oswego and Caroccio — is hosted just one hour away from their hometown and some even have the luxury of commuting back-and-forth between games.

The vast majority of the 106 teams competing traveled from as far as Florida, California and Canada. The long commutes don’t phase Matt Aiken anymore, as he now coaches his third child to come up through the sport of hockey. Behind the bench for the U-10 Clarington Flames, Aiken said crossing the border into the U.S. is both a regular occurrence and an exciting experience for many Canadian-based teams like his Ontario squad.

“I know they’re excited to play a U.S. team, we’re doing that tomorrow,” Aiken said. “So far so good, there’s lots of vendors, the Bauer Experience was pretty cool. We have our team dinner tonight at a local place.”

The Thursday Night Party marked the beginning of the weekend’s festivities at Bill Gray’s Regional Iceplex. Impressed by Bauer Hockey and The Bauer Experience, Aiken and many others enjoyed the offerings and opportunities to interact with apparel and equipment vendors while taking in some free food and plenty of activities.

Now with pool play in full swing across all 14 divisions, the rest of the weekend is sure to bring the energy and excitement from all the age groups.

“I think it’s just about getting the girls as much opportunity to play in as many different situations as possible,” said Eitel. “Girls’ hockey has exploded over the last few years, so we’re lucky that we’re having more and more of that but it’s still a little bit harder to find that variety. That’s why in years past, we’ve gone to Canada, we’ve gone all over the place to find them as much competition as we can because it’s all about their development.”

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