Capital Region hockey fans that didn’t have a ticket (or the energy) to catch the NHL Winter Classic at Citi Field on New Year’s Day now have three second chances: Saratoga has its own highly competitive, three-day international version coming up in February.
“It’s become a boy’s hockey getaway,” says Jake Dunnim, market president for Townsquare Media, of the Saratoga Frozen Springs Classic, which pits teams of amateurs—i.e. bygone high school, college, and rec-leaguers—against one another in open combat at the Saratoga Spa State Park. (Townsquare produces the SFSC in association with the Saratoga Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.) “It’s basically a three-day party,” says Dunnim, adding that all involved “will drink a significant amount of beer.”
This year’s Classic is set for February 9–11, and will see hundreds of players from all around the U.S. and Canada gather to compete in a four-on-four, round-robin-style hockey tournament sponsored by Labatt Blue and Nissan.
The SFSC draws teams from as far south as Florida, and they don’t fly all the way to Saratoga just for the hockey. Beer, bonfires, and musical guests are as much a part of the event as flying pucks. And rest assured, downtown Saratoga will be packed with hockey faithful all weekend. “We’ll have anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 people in the park each day,” said Dunnim. “Then we [send] about 1,500 drunk people into downtown, so the bars and restaurants love it.”
Although this year marks just its third iteration, the Saratoga Frozen Springs Classic has quickly become a large production: The event’s staff has been prepping the ice and light installations for its 10 rinks since mid-December.
“We play under the lights on Friday night, we play all day Saturday to the end of Saturday night, and then we play all day Sunday,” Dunnim says. “We even open it up to the public on Friday and Saturday for free concerts.”
Weekend parties hosted by the SFSC will include a DJ on Friday and a performance by local band the Refrigerators on Saturday. Much of the fanfare was made possible by the SFSC’s lead sponsor, Labatt, which helps bankroll 12 pond hockey tournaments across the Great Lakes and Northeast regions.
“Our pond hockey tournaments are a way for us to bring Labatt’s connection to hockey and our Canadian heritage to life,” said Gina Heine, associate brand manager at Labatt. “I can’t think of a better way to embrace a cold Saratoga winter than playing outdoor hockey with your friends[.]”
There’s no telling which team will take home top honors at this year’s Classic, but Dunnim knows one thing for sure: “They’ll come, they’ll play, and they’ll party.”