It’s game on at HarborCenter, Buffalo’s downtown $172 million hockey and entertainment complex, and Dave Smith has difficulty describing his level of excitement.
”I was a journalism major and I need more words,” the Canisius College hockey coach said Thursday. ”I’m stuck on special. It’s just a special feeling. It’s a special energy. Our guys cheered when they went on the ice.”
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The Atlantic Hockey Conference’s Golden Griffins will formally christen the two-rink facility’s main ice sheet on Friday when they host the Big Ten’s Ohio State.
HarborCenter, however, goes beyond Canisius, which will use it at its new home after previously playing at Buffalo State College.
The complex, privately funded by Sabres owner Terry Pegula, has already raised Buffalo’s stature on the international hockey landscape.
The NHL took notice by selecting Buffalo to host the league’s annual pre-draft rookie combine for the next two years. Two weeks ago, the Sabres were chosen to host the league’s draft in 2016.
Then there’s USA Hockey, which is bringing both the Under-18 women’s and sledge hockey world championships to Buffalo next year. And HarborCenter makes Buffalo a serious contender to host the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships.
”I’ll admit that exceeded our expectations,” HarborCenter president John Koelmel said. ”We’re all the more amazed and all the more pleased with the incredible response that we’ve gotten. And we’ve yet to open our doors.”
And the facility, which is connected to the Sabres’ arena, is not even completed yet.
Though the two NHL-sized rinks located on the sixth floor are ready, HarborCenter will eventually feature shops, restaurants and a full-service 200-plus-room hotel, which is scheduled to open next summer.
The complex includes 11 locker rooms, a full training facility and several classrooms for film study and team meetings. The main rink has an arched, wooden roof, which reverberates the smallest of sounds. The roof also provides an aesthetic quality by giving the rink a throwback barn-like feel.
Several floor-to-ceiling windows add natural light and provide panoramic views of the city.
The rinks will be busy. Aside from being home to Canisius, Erie County Community College and the Buffalo Junior Sabres hockey programs, HarborCenter is fully booked with youth hockey tournaments being held every weekend through April 1.
”For me, it’s special,” said former NHLer and Buffalo-area native Kevyn Adams, who will oversee HarborCenter’s hockey academy. ”To have this in the town that grew up in and know the positive impact we’re going to have on so many players and families, it’s hard to describe how exciting it is, and how much it means to me on a personal level.”