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Peca furthers hockey legacy<br> Under-11 icers featured in suburban tourney

The World Junior Hockey Championship, showcasing 220 of the world's best teenage hockey players from 10 nations, won't be the only prestigious international hockey tournament in the Buffalo area this week.

Some highly skilled 10-year-olds from all over the United States and Canada also will lace up their skates for a 10-team tournament being played in West Seneca and Cheektowaga.

And the tourney -- officially the 2010 World U-11 Invitational -- is the brainchild of former Buffalo Sabres star center Michael Peca, who still calls Western New York his home.

The tournament, which started Monday and runs through Thursday, features three teams from Ontario, one each from Quebec and British Columbia and U.S. teams from West Seneca, Detroit, Long Island, Nashville, Tenn., and Tampa Bay, Fla.

"We wanted it to be very competitive, but we also wanted it to be geographically diverse," said Peca, who retired from the National Hockey League last year at age 35.

The tournament, hosted by the West Seneca Wings, is a condensed version of the World Junior Hockey Championship, with the 10 teams playing a total of 31 games before a champion is crowned Thursday afternoon. The games are all being played in the Cheektowaga and West Seneca town rinks.

Want to feel old? Most of the players, including Peca's son Trevor, were born in 2000.

Peca got the idea while riding an HSBC Arena elevator with Buffalo Sabres public relations director Michael M. Gilbert during a Sabres game last March.

Both men have kids playing youth hockey, and Peca told Gilbert about a great post-Christmas youth hockey tournament that his family had attended in Ottawa.

"Why don't you host your own tournament?" Gilbert asked, an off-the-cuff remark that ultimately led to Peca setting up the tourney to coincide with the World Juniors.

All players and coaches in the youth tourney will be attending at least one World Juniors game, as well as taking advantage of some of the associated events.

Hosting the tournament is consistent with Peca's goal. Since he and his family settled in the Buffalo area, he has been committed to promoting and developing hockey here.

The festivities began with Monday night's opening event, a Taste of Buffalo dinner in the Millennium Hotel, Cheektowaga, featuring pizza, chicken wings and beef on weck, courtesy of the event's sponsors. Players got to mingle -- even signing autographs for one another.

"You never know, 10 to 12 years down the road, some of these might be kids the hockey world knows about," Peca said.

The teams are all highly regarded at the Atom (Canadian) or Squirt Major (American) level, with some of the top teams from both nations playing here. Of local interest, former Sabres center John Tucker coaches the Tampa Bay Junior Lightning.

Admission to the games is free, with the schedule and other details available at the website 2010WorldU11Invitational.com.

At the 1994 World Juniors in the Czech Republic, Peca won a gold medal as a member of Team Canada. So he knows all about the sacrifices -- and the joy -- of representing your country at such a young age.

"The kids are playing purely for the love of the sport," he said. "You see that passion, that enthusiasm, every game."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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