If you’ve ever visited Ocean City, Maryland, you’ve probably seen the landmark Carousel Hotel on 118th street. One of the oldest hotels and one of the first high-rise buildings in Ocean City, the Carousel boasts one of the most unique amenities in the country: an indoor ice-skating rink. Because of its irregular shape and size (less than a half-sheet of NHL regulation ice), the Carousel ice rink was historically used by hotel guests and visitors purely for recreation. But after USA Hockey announced its American Development Model in 2013, a plan that aims to improve youth player skills, a light bulb went off in Tom LaTona’s head.
“You think of Ocean City as vacation, something to do in the summer. Most hockey parents that know about Ocean City never associated it with hockey! That’s brand new, something that people have never put together.” Not until the new USA Hockey program called for the Mite age-group – 8 years and under– to play more cross-ice competitions. Cross-ice games are played across the width of a sheet of ice, creating rinks very similar in size to the Carousel’s rink.
And so began LaTona and fellow USA Hockey referee Brian Antkowiak’s mission to host a USA Hockey-sanctioned tournament at the Carousel, merging the beach with the ice. Working together with the Carousel management to create room packages for potential families, LaTona and Antkowiak’s first Mite Beach Bash kicked off on February 28, 2014. Since then, they have hosted three additional tournaments at the Carousel, with a fifth tournament held recently on March 27-29th. Two more tournaments are already on the books for 2015: October 23rd-25th and December 27th-29th.
The Beach Bash tournaments have a unique spin to them compared to other youth-level competitions, in that Ocean City creates a reason for the whole family to travel besides the actual games. With the beach, an indoor pool, mini golf, shopping and other amusement attractions nearby, “this tournament goes way beyond hockey,” says LaTona. The convenience of staying in the same building as the competition site, nearby dining options and built-in local attractions has caused the Beach Bash Tournaments to explode in popularity over its first year of existence.
Teams flowed in from across Maryland, DC and Northern Virginia, but interest to play in the tournament came from teams in Pennsylvania, southern Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and even Canada! The Mite Beach Bash on February 20-22nd quickly filled its first 20 spots, leaving LaTona and Antkowiak with the healthy problem of adding a second weekend for overflow teams.
LaTona and Antkowiak, along with Antkowiak’s wife, Jenelle, have created a unique experience in Ocean City, a place that already has a little bit of everything! In creating new opportunities for youth hockey in Maryland, they’ve also sparked tourism and spending during the off-season of a very seasonal location. “This is a dream I had, and despite other people telling us we were crazy, we were able to turn this dream into a reality,” LaTona says.
To learn more about the Mite Beach Bash and other tournaments at the Carousel, check out the Mite Beach Bash Facebook page.