Former Buffalo Sabres Phil Housley and Rob McClanahan said the city and First Niagara Center is the perfect venue for the first-ever CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
The game, set for Saturday, Sept. 29 at the downtown arena, will pit the nation's top 40 teenaged players - all of whom are National Hockey League draft eligible next summer - in a showcase that is garnering a lot of attention in hockey circles. Face off is at 7 p.m. and follows two youth hockey games that will be held earlier in the day.
That USA Hockey selected Buffalo and the Buffalo Sabres to host the first-ever, grand scale prospects game is sign of the close relationship between the organizations. The Sabres hosted the 2011 World Juniors championship series that attracted more than 300,000 people to First Niagara Center and Niagara University's Dwyer Arena.
"I couldn't think of a better place to start the prospects game," said Housley, who was an assistant coach for Team USA at the World Juniors.
Housley was drafted by the Sabres in 1992 an 18-year-old from Minnesota. He stayed with the team through 1990, when Housley was traded to the Winnipeg Jets.
McClanahan, a member of the 1980 Team USA gold medal winning squad, played part of two seasons with the Sabres before being acquired by the Hartford Whalers in the 1981 waiver draft.
Both have fond memories of Buffalo and the Sabres organization.
"It brings back a ton of memories," McClanahan said.
Both hope this weekend's game creates its own set of memories for the players.
The players will be arriving in Buffalo on Friday and will be feted in a private dinner, hosted by the Sabres, that night.
The game, itself, has been three years in the planning, said Dave Fischer, USA Hockey spokesman.
USA Hockey, in conjunction with NHL Central Scouting, selected the players.
"The intent is showcase some bright, young stars," Fischer said.
Housley and McClanahan both agreed that an all-star game like for top, young USA hockey prospects would have been milestone when they were both in their teen-aged years and draft eligible.
"It is an important game for a lot of these kids and their future," Housley said.
Scouts will be looking at a number of different things including on-ice talent and how well the players mesh with their teammates.
"It is one step in the entire process," McClanahan said. "It's not the end-all, but it gives the players an opportunity to play in front of a lot of people. It will be fun for the kids to play against each other, but also measure themselves against their fellow players."
Tickets for the game remain available.