From Orchard Park, N.Y., the Winter Classic rink has found a new home in nearby Aurora.
Buffalo Suburb Benefits From Last Year’s Winter Classic Rink
The theme of the East Aurora adult hockey league is a simple one: “No ice princesses. No pirouettes. Not a lot of fans. Just old tyme hockey played outdoors like it should be.”
Located 20 minutes east of Buffalo, N.Y., the Old Tyme Hockey League is doing just that thanks to the town’s new outdoor rink.
But this is no ordinary sheet of ice. It’s the same ice that Sidney Crosby, Evengi Malkin and Ryan Miller skated on in the 2008 NHL Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in nearby Orchard Park.
“I was hoping to get 50 or 60 guys signed up,” said league commissioner Ned McDonnell. “Now we have 10 teams and about 220 players, and that should double or triple next year because the rink has sparked so much interest.”
After all, who wouldn’t want to skate on the same ice as some of the NHL’s best?
Getting the rink up and running was more than an overnight process, requiring private donations and the dedication of more than 100 volunteers, as well as a little luck.
For nine years, the Aurora Ice Association had been trying to find the funds to build a dual-sheet ice rink. While attending the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo, the association’s president, Tony DiFilippo, saw the short-term solution to the financial woes of trying to build such a facility: using the same ice he saw in front of him.
Under the impression that the NHL owned the ice, DeFilippo put the idea aside until a few months later when he found out the ice-making equipment happened to be stored just seven miles away. That sparked a chain of events starting with the delivery of the equipment in September and the beginning of construction in October.
“People we didn’t even know would jump out of their cars with a tool belt on and ask how they could help out,” DeFilippo said. “It became like a giant jigsaw puzzle.”
And all the pieces came from different places. The ice came from Buffalo; the boards from SUNY Oswego; the Zamboni from the Dallas Stars. The NHL even showed its support by allowing East Aurora to brand the rink, using the Winter Classic logo at center ice.
The East Aurora Classic Rink opened on Nov. 1, and the reception from the community and beyond has been overwhelming. Teams from Rochester, Syracuse and Pittsburgh have shown interest in playing, and ice time is booked through mid-March when the rink is expected to close due to warmer weather.
“It’s been great for the community,” DiFilippo said. “We knew it would be successful, but we had no idea it would be this successful.”
Although East Aurora still has plans for a bigger facility, they are not ruling out keeping the historic ice in town. Some possibilities include putting a roof over the current rink or leaving the outdoor rink and adding an indoor sheet.
In the meantime, East Aurora residents from youth players to the high school varsity team to adult leagues such as Old Tyme Hockey can enjoy playing the game outdoors – just like it was meant to be.