Matthew and Jacob Small had barely stepped off the escalator and into the second floor expanse of the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center when they made a beeline for the bubble hockey games.
After being shutout by Santa earlier in the week for their own bubble hockey game, the brothers from nearby Williamsville, N.Y., were eager to get their hands on one of the community games. They quickly grabbed the handles that control little red and blue players and didn’t let go for the better part of 20 minutes.
Next to watching the U.S. National Junior Team in action, this was as close to hockey heaven as the brothers could get. And even though Jacob, a Mite, may not be able to keep up with his Squirt-aged brother on the ice, he more than held his own in bubble hockey.
On the other side of the convention hall, members of Buffalo’s police and fire departments were waging their own battle, this time on the synthetic ice sheet that measured a quarter of the size of a real rink.
“This is a lot of fun, just being out here with our fellow police officers and firefighters,” said goaltender Mike Chase, a firefighter with Ladder 6. “For a lot of us this is how we started in the game, just having fun playing shinny on the pond. This is a little tougher to skate on but it’s still fun.
“We’re all friends when we’re off the ice, but when we get on the ice we can go at it pretty good. I don’t think you’ll see that here today because it’s a pretty small surface.”
That was a relief to Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, who anxiously watched his city’s finest facing off just a few feet away.
“I’m hoping they are going to take it a little easy on each other today and that there won’t be any injuries,” Brown said.
It was all part of the Hockey Towne USA Fan Fest, which took place over the first three days of the IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. For those who weren’t able to make it down to HSBC Arena or Dwyer Arena on the campus of Niagara University, it was a chance for the already rabid hockey community to feel a part of the prestigious tournament.
“Many of the young boys and girls who are here today are hockey players and are hoping to be where the kids who are playing in the World Juniors are someday,” Brown said before heading over to a stand that sold, what else, Buffalo wings.
“This is pretty inspiring for those kids but also for those that don’t play hockey. There are a lot of fun things to see and do here, and it’s great to see families having a great time.”