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Spectators barred from amateur hockey tourney in Amherst, Niagara County

A major amateur hockey tournament will go on this weekend in the Northtown Center at Amherst without fans at the direction of town officials worried about the possible spread of COVID-19 because some participating players are from Westchester County.

Organizers later extended the ban to the other tournament sites in Niagara Falls and Lockport.

Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said he consulted with state and Erie County officials before making the decision to bar spectators from the New York State Amateur Hockey Association's state travel tournament, which takes place Friday through Sunday.

Kulpa said he was under pressure to cancel the tournament altogether, but he thought allowing it to proceed without anyone at the arena besides players, coaches, officials and organizers sufficiently addresses those safety concerns. Some participants are coming from Westchester County, which has had the largest number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the state, with an outbreak centered on New Rochelle.

"I decided we're going to let the kids play, we're going to try to limit exposure inside the building and keep the crowds down inside the building," Kulpa said in an interview.

The association posted a note on its website on Tuesday alerting parents they can drop off players at the entrance to the rinks but then must leave. The games will be streamed for live viewing.

(Erie County)

The association said as a precaution it has extended the ban on spectators to the other two facilities hosting the state travel tournament this weekend – Hyde Park in Niagara Falls and Cornerstone Ice Arena in Lockport.

The tournament field includes 54 teams of boys ranging in age from 14 and under to 18 and under, said Joseph M. Baudo, the association's president. About 1,500 players, coaches, parents and other people were expected to take part, he said.

The association has asked teams that do not plan to attend the tournament because of concerns over COVID-19 to let them know by Wednesday afternoon.

Kulpa said he expects tournament organizers to pre-screen players and coaches to make sure no one with potential COVID-19 symptoms takes part.

He said he checked with the Erie County Executive's Office and the Governor's Office before making the call to let the tournament proceed without spectators.

"We're specifically doing it because this tournament has people coming from areas with known infection," he said, adding, "It's not like I made this decision in a vacuum."

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