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Ice at Canalside returns to skater approval

Monday in Buffalo was about the Bills, the Sabres – and the seasonal opening of The Ice at Canalside.

“It’s so pretty,” said Melissa Fronckowiak, of Cheektowaga. “It’s nice to see all the people.”

Skaters will see new amenities for 2015-16, which include a 1,500-square-foot Canalside Winter Pavilion, a more spacious warming hut than last year, larger matted areas and skate-aide walkers for the ice, which is bigger than the size of two regulation professional hockey rinks.

“Look, it’s snowing. Perfect!” exclaimed Christy Spegar, of Bemus Point, heading down the ramp toward the ice with her husband, Doug, and 4-year-old son, Miller, clad in a knit Santa Claus cap.

“I had fun,” Miller said.

It was the Chautauqua Lake family’s first visit to the rink at Canalside. They didn’t make it up last year.

“It’s wonderful,” Spegar said. “I’ve been looking to see when it was going to open. This is so nice. We’ll definitely be back.”

Fronckowiak and fellow John F. Kennedy High School senior Olivia Faulkner, of Sloan, couldn’t agree more.

They skated on the Canalside ice more than a dozen times last year and couldn’t wait to skate Monday.

“Way better,” Faulkner said of this year’s experience.

The 16-by-80-foot warming tent had a lot to do with that for Faulkner, who says she doesn’t mix well with cold, even though she enjoys ice skating.

The structure, with benches, cubbies and rental lockers, is about twice as big as the vinyl tent at the site last year. It has a glassed-in wall overlooking the ice.

On the 34-degree early Monday evening, the warming tent was one of the most popular new features for Canalside patrons.

The Winter Pavilion is also heated and comes with food and merchandise vendors. Skaters and guests can enjoy french fries, waffles, popcorn, pizza, hot coffee and other beverages and purchase “Buffalove” and Canalside-related items.

Theme nights and weekly programming at the rink, including music, magic shows, a fitness series and other events, are also new. For a complete listing, visit canalsidebuffalo.com.

“We talk about making incremental improvements to Canalside, but this year, we outdid ourselves making a huge leap with scores of new amenities and activities at The Ice,” said Robert D. Gioia, chairman of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. “With the new Winter Pavilion, improved warming tent, more activities and food choices, paired with extended hours, this winter season will be exceptional.”

The new hours are 3 to 7 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. The Ice at Canalside is also open on Thanksgiving from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com