Landing a pair of USA Hockey prospects games in each of the two next two years could add more to the Buffalo Sabres' arsenal in its quest to secure the 2018 World Junior Championships.
The prospects games, coupled with the $172 million HarborCenter project that is under construction, may be enough to convince the International Ice Hockey Federation to award the high-profile World Junior tournament back to Buffalo. The top-ranked, amateur international hockey championship series is due back in the United States in 2018. Buffalo and the Sabres' organization hosted the 2010 World Junior event, drawing heaps of praise for their handling of the competition and the ability to sell more than 330,000 tickets - the most ever for the event on U.S. soil.
The event had a local economic impact well north of $5 million.
"The Sabres are interested in hosting the World Juniors. Absolutely," said Ted Black, Sabres' president, during Tuesday's announcement about the return of the USA Hockey Prospect Game. "We will be going after the World Juniors very aggressively. This is right in the wheelhouse of what we want to do."
It was the 2010 World Juniors that helped cement the strong relationship between USA Hockey and the Sabres. USA Hockey selected the Sabres to host its inaugural "All-American Prospects Game" in September 2012.
USA Hockey upped the ante by announcing, with the Sabres, that the this year's prospects game, as well as the 2015 contest, will again be held at First Niagara Center. Pittsburgh hosted last fall's prospects game.
The game features draft eligible players, virtually all of whom are top rated by the NHL Central Scouting department. The players, all teenagers, comes from Junior A level teams, NCAA Division I squads and other amateur organizations.
Black said tickets for the prospects games will be offered, for free, to Sabres' season ticket holders as part of their yearly package. The remaining tickets will be put on sale to the general public later this summer and the following summer.
"We want to fill the house," Black said.
Black said the Sabres also want to use the prospects games to showcase the HarborCenter project, which is slated to debut this fall. The complex, funded by Sabres' owner Terry Pegula, features a pair of rinks, plus a state-of-the-art off-ice training center. Other HarborCenter amenities include a 205-room Marriott hotel, sports bar and some retail space.
Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey executive director, said his organization has a definite comfort level working with the Sabres and the local community including Visit Buffalo Niagara, the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission and venues like the Northtown Center at Amherst.
The Buffalo area has hosted a number of USA Hockey tournaments.
"There's a lot of USA Hockey DNA in Western New York," Ogrean said. "This is a city we want to come back to more frequently."
The HarborCenter will further Buffalo's efforts to land other notable amateur hockey tournaments, Ogrean said. Coming up in the next few years are chances to host the Women's World Juniors Championship series in 2015 and the U-18 men's international games in 2016.
Ogrean did admit that when the 2018 World Juniors bids are released next year, Buffalo will not be alone in its quest to land the championship series. The success Buffalo recorded in 2010 caught the eye of many other NHL teams.
"Buffalo, obviously stacks up very, very well," Ogrean said. "But, there are other American NHL clubs that have seen that and want to know how they can get 'on the bus.' Buffalo has set the bar very high."