BLOOMINGDALE - A first-time event in this year's Saranac Lake Winter Carnival was an overwhelming success as the Casey McHugh Memorial Pond Hockey Tournament took place Sunday on the rinks behind the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department.
Eighteen teams competed in the tournament, which raised more than $4,000 for a scholarship fund in memory of Casey McHugh, a Saranac Lake High School graduate and a President's List student/athlete at SUNY Potsdam who died last summer in a collision between his skateboard and a golf cart.
Casey was one of four brothers from a hockey family, and fittingly, the team coming out on top included his brothers: Ryan, Brennen and Patrick. His mother Kathy and father Sean were also on hand to watch the action, and players came from across the North Country and as far away as Rochester to play. By the time the tournament had wrapped up in the late afternoon, hundreds of fans and players had stopped by.
Brennen McHugh reaches for the puck while his brother Ryan holds off SUNY Cortland hockey team player and National Sports Academy graduate Ryan Durocher during Sunday’s championship game. Sean McHugh is also pictured standing in the background between his two sons watching the action.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
"It was a great day," Kathy said. "It was a testament to this community and its support of youth sports, and also to Casey. He wasn't a spectacular kid, and for being just a regular kid, it was amazing to see how many friends he had. It was comforting. The turnout was beyond my expectations. We had no idea it was going to be this well received."
"Personally, I think it was a tremendous day, especially since it was the day after the Winter Carnival parade," Sean said. "Hundreds of people were there. Everybody came. Many came certainly for Casey, and others came to play some hockey on a beautiful day. There were some teams here to win it; that's for sure."
The championship game came down to a Saranac Lake-Lake Placid matchup that saw the McHugh squad - named CSM after Casey's initials - square off against a team from the Olympic Center's Kevin Broderick Memorial Hockey League. Patrick McHugh, a senior captain and defenseman for the Saranac Lake Red Storm icers, paced CSM with a hat trick.
"That was the best I've seen Patrick play all year," Sean said. "He wasn't standing at that blue line."
The contest was knotted at 3-3 with about five minutes left when CSM then took over, scoring three unanswered goals with the game-winner coming off the stick of Ryan McHugh, who is also a Potsdam student.
"Winning was just icing on the cake," Ryan said. "It was more important that everybody had fun, and I think it was was a great day for everybody. I think this tournament is going to be around for a long time to come."
"We were clicking," Patrick McHugh said. "It felt really nice seeing all the people out here."
In addition to the trio of brothers, CSM also featured their cousins: Mac and Sarah Stratford (Mac plays hockey at St. Lawrence University), A.J. LaLonde of Rochester and Bloomingdale's Katie Niederbuhl.
"He's our cousin and our ringer," Brennen said with a grin, referring to Mac. "When I saw the teams in this, I didn't think we would end up the winners. There were about four really good teams out there, and we had one of them, so we were fortunate. This was a lot of fun and quite an honor to Casey."
Teams competing also included a squad of Saranac Lake coaches, current Red Storm students and athletes who were clad in camouflage tops, and another group from Potsdam who were friends with Casey at college, where he was a member of the Bears golf team. Shane Laurie was on the Potsdam squad and traveled to the tournament.
"Casey was a golf teammate and my best friend," Laurie said. "We came to support the McHughs and play some hockey. The turnout was great. It was a good mix of competition and fun."
Emily Doyle, a Saranac Lake High School graduate and soccer player at SUNY Potsdam, organized the tournament with the help of her father Tim and others. She said she first came up with the idea for the event around the holidays. She shared an apartment in Potsdam with Casey and Ryan and another student, and she played plenty of hockey with Casey behind the fire department in Bloomingdale growing up.
"We were friends and roommates," she said. "I thought this tournament would be a nice way to honor Casey, and the rink in Bloomingdale was a perfect place to hold this tournament.
"Casey always wanted to be a low-key guy, and Bloomingdale was where he liked to play. It's just a nice place to hang out and skate."
After the tournament, the crowd relaxed indoors and enjoyed a spaghetti dinner at Ga-Ga's in Bloomingdale. All involved said they would love to see it become a regular event in the Winter Carnival schedule.
"Overall, this was a great success, and we'd love to do it every year as part of Winter Carnival," Emily Doyle said. "There were a few glitches, but I've learned a lot along the way. It was great seeing all the people at the rinks today. Casey loved playing there."
They also celebrated the beginning of the scholarship fund in Casey's memory.
"Four thousand dollars and counting, and that's fantastic," Kathy McHugh said. "We are looking what to do with the money, and one idea we like would be splitting it between Potsdam and a Saranac Lake senior. Casey really liked both places. If Casey were here, he would be playing at that rink all day."
"I saw images of Casey playing out there," Sean said. "It was nice to see the McHugh team come out on top, but I think the Lake Placid guys went a little easy on them. There were some good hockey players out there."