The Bowman Cup is all fun and games until the puck is dropped.
The Buffalo Sabres annual Scotty Bowman Showcase has become much more than an all-star game between players who hail from nearby communities. It has evolved.
The players are no longer just competing for the opportunity to impress college scouts and possibly earn a scholarship. And they aren't just fighting for the right to have their name engraved on the ceremonial silver chalice.
Winning the Bowman Cup has turned into a matter of pride between two rival cities and that battle continues tonight when the 2008 Bowman Cup takes place in HSBC Arena (Junior game - 6 p.m.; Seniors - 8 p.m.).
Admission for the games and parking is free.
"It starts out that way [just trying to have fun]," said Buffalo juniors head coach Larry Playfair, who have been intimately involved in the event since its inception in 2005. "The thought is, it's a highlight for the kids at the end of the year, let's just get them out on the ice and we'll play them all equal. Then the game gets going and you get into it.
"Watch what happens in the games. Guys start banging into each other a little more. It gets a little more confrontational and a little more physical. Guys drive to the puck a little harder. All the stuff that happens in a game, when guys want to win it, happen in the Bowman Cup."
With a smile, Playfair recalls a heated pep talk during the inaugural showcase when he was serving as an assistant coach on the Buffalo Senior squad.
The story illustrates how meaningful the game has become to everyone who is involved, and not just the players.
Even the longest tenured coach in the National Hockey League has not been immune to the rivalry.
"Lindy [Ruff] was coaching the very first cup," said Playfair. "We were really beating Rochester at the end of the second period. It was some crazy score like 9-2. I thought Lindy was going to come in and give the guys a 'back off and just have some fun out there' speech.'
"And he absolutely fried them. He said, 'look you've got nine but that's not good enough. Go out there and fill the net.'
"So I think it all comes back to competition. It is a competition."
The Rochester Senior hockey team defeated the Buffalo Seniors by a score of 4-3 to win the 2007 Bowman Cup.