For as long as I can remember, Buffalo has been a punch line. Around the NHL, Buffalo has been seen as a city that players only choose to play for as a last resort or for the money. Times have changed for the Queen City and people are starting to take notice. The city is on the rise and is starting to become a destination for players and the hockey world.
First Family of Buffalo Sports
Most Sabres fans and for that matter any Buffalo native can remember the tough times that followed the Rigas ownership. The Rigas family and Adelphia Cable was under investigation for fraud. The Buffalo Sabres were up for sale and on the verge of relocation. The franchise was eventually saved by Tom Golisano who purchased the team on March 19th, 2003. Golisano forever became a hero in Buffalo for what he did for this city.
Golisano would eventually end up selling the team after 7 years as the owner. On February 23rd, 2011 the future of Buffalo sports changed. Terry Pegula was introduced as the new owner of the Buffalo Sabres. The introductory press conference is one of the
most memorable moments in Sabres history. Pegula was very sincere and showed his love for the team right off the hop. He made it clear that “from this point forward, Buffalo Sabres reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup.”
Once the Pegula family took over, they immediately began to change the perception of the franchise. It started with upgrades to the First Niagara Center. Next was the upgrades to the Buffalo Sabres locker room and training facility. Thanks to the Pegula’s, the Sabres have one of the best player facilities in the entire NHL. This was going to be a huge selling point to potential free agent targets.
The Pegula family wasn’t done changing the landscape of Buffalo Sports. On September 9th, 2014 Terry and Kim Pegula were announced the new owners of the Buffalo Bills. After years of doubt and worry about the future of the NFL in Buffalo, the Pegula family secured the future of another Buffalo sports franchise. After the purchase of the Bills, ‘One Buffalo’ was formed. Buffalo sports was united under the Pegula Family.
The Pegula’s didn’t stop with the upgrades to First Niagara Center. In March of 2013 construction began of HarborCenter; the new facility would be built on a 1.7 acre city block. HarborCenter contains retail stores on the floor level, a 13,000 square foot restaurant and bar called 716, a state of the art training facility, 200 plus room Marriott Hotel, parking garage and two hockey rinks. This facility is connected to the First Niagara Center, which puts three hockey rinks in very close proximity.
HarborCenter is another selling point to the hockey world that Buffalo is on the rise. If you combine the new facility with the newly created Canal Side, the waterfront has come alive in downtown Buffalo. Even with how new the area outside of First Niagara is, players around the league are already taking notice:
HarborCenter will now act as the gateway to hockey in Buffalo. Not only for the Buffalo Sabres, but all of hockey. The Academy of Hockey was created and is run by former NHL players like Kevyn Adams, Martin Biron, and Adam Mair. The hockey youth of Buffalo is being groomed within a facility created by the Sabres owner. Canisus College Division I men’s hockey also makes their home in HarborCenter. Hockey has taken over the atmosphere of downtown Buffalo.
Hockey World Taking Notice
Not only has hockey continued to expand in Buffalo, but the hockey world is catching on to how great a market Buffalo is for the sport. USA Hockey hasn’t wasted any time taking advantage of the HarborCenter facilities. Buffalo recently hosted the USA Hockey All American Prospects Game, IIHF under 18 Women’s World Championship and IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship. Mr. Pegula and Sabres President Ted Black, has also indicated the organization will be bidding for the 2018 World Junior Championships.
The NHL has also jumped in on the party. Buffalo was recently awarded the right to host the NHL Draft scouting combine in 2015 and 2016. This is the first time the event will take place outside of Toronto. In addition, Buffalo was selected to host the
2016 NHL Draft that will feature top prospect Auston Matthews. The Sabres continue to bid for the NHL All-Star game and you have to think that it’s only a matter of time before they’re selected to host the event.
Buffalo is starting to become a destination for players in the NHL. Although the city is classified as a “small market”, the sports teams are owned by one of the wealthiest owners in the NHL and NFL. The Sabres now have the ability to compete with any organization in terms of finances, making Buffalo a very non traditional small market team.
In Pegula’s introductory Sabres press conference he said he wanted to create “hockey heaven” in Buffalo. The team itself has struggled to stay competitive, but those times seem to be a thing of the past now. On the ice, the Sabres appear ready to begin to build towards an annual cup contender with a new superstar as the face of the franchise. Pegula’s vision of hockey heaven may not be to far into the future.