The Return of the Robin is a sure sign that spring is near.
We’re talking not about the bird, but about the annual hockey — and more — event that fills up all the ice rinks in and near Rochester for a weekend in late March or early April.
The 37th Return of the Robin starts tonight with a smattering of games and continues through Sunday.
In recent years the Robin has grown to include other events, including a three-on-three hockey tournament in the fall, a golf tournament in the summer and running events staged on the traditional Robin weekend.
Its main event has also grown from 24 teams to 76. Begun primarily as a way for former area players to have hockey and a good time in an annual return to Rochester, it now attracts a goodly number of former NHL, professional and major college players.
The event has non-profit status and is raising money for both Alzheimer’s research and Shjon Podein’s Team 25 Foundation, and also giving youth hockey booster clubs a chance to raise funds by working at the games. “Podein and I talked about how hard it is to get a big structure for his event,” said the Robin’s new hockey director Jeremy Gunderson. “What better way to get 1,200 hockey players together to help kids?”
The players have fun on and off the ice. Others can join in on a lot of it, too. The Saturday night party at Graham Arena is open to the public for a $7 cover, with bands Acillatem and Time Machine playing.
Spectators can watch hockey, and keep an ear out to hear which well-known former pro and college players — many of whom make a point of deciding last-minute to participate — are involved.
The marquee hockey event is Sunday’s 3:30 alumni/celebrity game at Graham IV. John Marshall and Mayo players from the programs’ high-water marks in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s will be joined by other players of note.
“They still kind of chirp at each other,” says Gunderson.
There is no admission charge, but cash donations will be accepted at the door. There’s also a postgame get-together at Dooley’s.
• Games are Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
• Three-game guarantee, 19 divisions; Select (highest) division has expanded from four to six teams, placed in that division by invitation
• VIP Player’s Lounge
• Multiple player’s discounts on local weekend events
• Saturday Night Player’s Party (8 p.m. Saturday at Graham Arena) featuring live music and drink specials; open to the public ($7 cover), free to players
• Tailgating party
• Saturday noon Bean Bag Tournament, open to first 50 teams ($50 entry, pre-registration and payment required)
• Saturday Rockin’ Robin Run — 1-mile (9 a.m.), half marathon (9:30), 10K (10 a.m.) and 5K (10:30).
• Raffle and silent auction
• Celebrity Game, benefiting Shjon Podein’s Team 25 Foundation: Sunday at 3:30 p.m.