The apple cider was hot, the popcorn was served, and more than 100 fans, family and friends of the Wellesley Apple Jacks and the Burford Bulldogs were waiting eagerly for Saturday night’s home opener to start at the Wellesley Arena.
And waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
Forty minutes after the intended start time, a voice came over the loudspeaker and announced that to the team’s dismay, the evening’s game was cancelled due to problems with the ice. After a malfunction with the temperature controller, the arena’s ice thermometer read a balmy 28 degrees Fahrenheit; the temperature needed to skate safely is around 21. Just a few degrees warmer and it may have looked more like a swimming pool than a hockey rink.
“The teams played their pre-game warm-up and both the players and the referees picked up on it,” said Wellesley’s director of recreation Brad Voisin. “Eventually we made the decision that it just wasn’t safe to play on.”
Despite the cancellation, all of the members of the Jacks and the Burford Bulldogs were in their full hockey gear for the singing of the national anthem and for a tribute in memoriam to three members of the hockey community who passed away since the end of last season.
First, there was a moment of silence for Mary Lowe, a proud supporter of the Burford Bulldogs for many years. Lowe was a close friend to many in the league and was honoured with a moment of silence. Next, the Jacks honoured 20-year-old Norwich Merchants player Ben Pearson who died in the early morning hours of Oct. 2 of liver complications. Pearson was a close friend of Wellesley player Josh Herd. And finally, the crowd continued to stand in silence in memory of Shawn Gerber, the Jacks’ assistant coach who died suddenly in July.
The teams both got a round of applause from the waiting crowd before promptly turning around and skating back into their respective dressing rooms.
Voisin checked the ice temperature on Sunday morning and the failed mechanism seemed to be working fine again, the ice temperature back down to normal.
“We are going to keep a very close eye on the piece of machinery,” he said. “It seems to be working fine now but if it continues to go out of calibration, we will have to replace it.”
Because of the delay, the Apple Jacks won’t have played a game for more than two weeks when they hit the ice this weekend. Whereas some teams in the league are going on to play their fifth or sixth game, Friday night’s match was only the third for the Wellesley team.
“It’s a huge setback for what we’re trying to do,” said coach Kevin Fitzpatrick. “As a team we need to get some momentum going and it’s tough to do that when you don’t play.”
When the cancellation was announced, fans that had already purchased tickets for the evening’s game were given the option to exchange them for a ticket to an upcoming game or to get their money back. More than 90 per cent of people asked for a ticket for another game.
“We know how disappointed everyone was,” said Fitzpatrick. “It was a tough situation but we had to make the best of what we had and we really appreciate all the fan support.”
The new official home opener becomes Friday at 8:30 versus Hagersville.