A new feature of the Denny's PBA Tour will make next week's stop at AMF Thruway Lanes all the more intriguing to local bowling fans.
That, of course, is the introduction of the PBA Women's Series event as a companion to the PBA Etonic Championship at the Cheektowaga facility.
The return of the PBA Tour to the Buffalo area two seasons ago has produced popular champions in Doug Kent of Newark and Hall of Famer Pete Weber.
Kent defeated Norm Duke in the GEICO Championship final here in February 2006. Last November, Kent lost to Weber in the title match in a season that saw him take Bowler of the Year honors and win two major events, the USBC Masters and the Denny's World Championship.
A strong performance by one of the four local pros who enjoy exempt status on the tour -- Brad Angelo, Jack Jurek, Joe Ciccone and former Buffalonian Tom Baker -- would enhance the event here. So would a title appearance by Liz Johnson in the Women's Series tournament.
Local fans are still waiting for one of their own to get to the Sunday televised finals in front of a home crowd. Western New York bowlers have provided a bit of drama in the last two tour stops here.
Last year, the best finish in the Etonic was by Johnson, who gained entry into the 64-bowler field via the qualifier on Wednesday. Johnson and Angelo both advanced to the round of eight, one victory shy of making the TV show. Weber took out Johnson, 4-1, while Kent blanked Angelo.
Johnson, of course, won't bowl in the Denny's Tour event because she will be participating in the Women's Series event. She is coming off her victory in the USBC Women's Open last month before her 14th place in the USBC Masters, highest finish ever for a woman. Her 843 series in a match against tour pro Tony Reyes was the third best ever bowled in the Masters, by a male or female.
Two years ago, it was Cheektowaga's Ryan Ciminelli, then 19, who made headlines. He won the Tour Qualifier, then qualified seventh among 64 bowlers for the main tournament and advanced to the round of 16 before losing.
Buffalo bowling followers are sophisticated enough to enjoy watching top bowling competitors in live action but to have a local favorite win a title or get to the final four here would be twice as nice.
Meanwhile, Thruway Lanes is in the midst of negotiations to bring the tour back beyond this season.
He'll be missed
Western New York lost a well-known bowling figure with the death on Tuesday of Gene Rutkowski.
Rutkowski, 70, operated the pro shop at Orchard Park Lanes for 20 years. He's a former president of the Buffalo Bowling Association (1994-95) and was active in the Greater Buffalo USBC Association activities until his death.
As captain, Rutkowski led the Orchard Park Lanes team to two championships of the old BPA All-Stars Travel League. His career best average was 214 and he notched four 300 games.
Aside from bowling, Rutkowski was a retired supervisor for Albany International Co.
*George Spencer strung five strikes starting in the fifth frame and won his fourth Amateur Bowlers Tour by defeating Ron Hubbell, 247-205, at Transit Lanes. In the first round of match play Spencer topped Phil Kaiser, 213-202, while Hubbell topped Roger Thane Jr., 219-210.
*The Buffalo Women's 600 Bowling Club will hold its annual Members Only Handicap Singles Tournament starting at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Voelker's Bowling Center. Entry fee is $18. The club's annual meeting will follow the tournament.
*The Erie Community College men's and women's teams will begin their seasons today in the Big Red Invitational at Cornell. Next week, the Kats are entered in the Penn State Classic.