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Pavilion has pond skaters covered

With the World Junior Hockey Championship on hiatus Saturday, mostly middle-aged players had a chance to don skates and have fun at the Labatt Blue Winter Classic Pond Hockey Tournament in East Aurora.

Making it possible was Time Warner Cable Classic Rink's 2-month-old, $750,000 roofed pavilion, which allowed the 150 players scattered across 22 teams to play, despite temperatures in the mid-50s and a steady rain.

In contrast, rain almost scuttled the outdoor NHL Winter Classic between the Penguins and Washington Capitals in Pittsburgh. However, the game was a go after he starting time was delayed eight hours.

"If we didn't have the roof this year, we'd probably be in the same boat [as Pittsburgh]," said T.J. Welsh of the Dream Team. "It keeps the Winter Classic feel since it's still outdoors, but keeps the rain off the playing surface."

The 3-year-old rink is the actual one that was used for the first Winter Classic at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008. The village bought it from the National Hockey League, with help from private donations and grants from regional foundations.

"The roof is already paying for itself," said John Cimperman, a spokesman for the Aurora Ice Association, the not-for-profit organization that built and manages the facility used for youth and adult leagues, open skating and skating lessons.

It was the third straight pond hockey tournament held on New Year's Day, featuring novice, intermediate and advanced levels. The winner earned free placement in the 2011 Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament, being held Feb. 12 and 13 at Buffalo's Erie Basin Marina.

Registration for the 21-and-older tournament began at noon Saturday. Teams are encouraged to register online early because of an anticipated sellout. The registration fee is $250. Team captains with questions can contact ed@labattbluepondhockey.com.

"It's all about skill, short passes, rotating almost in a diamond, and everyone covering for each other," said Marty Gilano of Fitzgerald's Polar Bears, after beating the Bar Bell Bruins, 34-18. "It's so much fun, because it's constant, non-stop play."

Gilano was surprised by the warm temperatures.

"It feels like you're playing in the middle of summer right now," he said.

Welsh, whose wife, children, parents and nephew watched the competition, was thrilled to be playing under the pavilion.

"The roof is the best thing the town could have done. I just hope they never put walls on it, and keep it open," he said. "I was skating earlier this year, just looking out at all the snow, and it was awesome."

Hockey fans today will return to HSBC Arena in Buffalo and Dwyer Arena in Lewiston when World Junior Hockey Championship competition resumes.

The fans also will be able see the Stanley Cup, which will be on display in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery from 10 a.m. today through 5 p.m. Jan. 5, with special hours of 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday. The Cup is part of a special exhibition "Forty: The Sabres in the NHL."

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com