American prospects are coming to Buffalo

You can’t argue that Terry Pegula and the Buffalo Sabres aren’t interested in growing the game of hockey. The Sabres and USA Hockey hooked up for the second time in two years to announce that Buffalo will host the inaugural All-American Prospects Game.

The game will be played at First Niagara Center on September 29, 2012. According to the release from the Sabres and USA Hockey, 40 of the top draft-eligible prospects will participate. From the release:

“It’s a concept we’ve been talking about for a couple of years and we’re excited to bring it to life in partnership with the Buffalo Sabres,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “The talent level on the First Niagara Center ice on Sept. 29 will be exceptional. We view this game as an opportunity to gain additional exposure for hockey and help influence growth of the sport through showcasing the future stars of the game.”
“We’re extremely pleased to have this inaugural event come to Buffalo,” said Ted Black, president of the Buffalo Sabres. “We have a tremendous working relationship with USA Hockey and I know our fans will embrace the All-American Prospects Game.”

The release specifies that the rosters will be comprised of players from major junior and collegiate programs with additional players from elite high school and prep hockey programs. Expect roster information to come out in June or July, with ticketing information to be released in May.

Basically, this will be an all-American version of the CHL Top Prospects game. It isn’t a bad idea, especially because it includes players from outside the CHL ranks. I don’t expect the game to reach the levels that the Top Prospects game has, but it certainly is a cool event to have kick started in Buffalo.

While there haven’t been specific indications made, I would expect that some iconic American hockey legends will be dubbed as coaches for this event as it progresses on a yearly basis. There was also no television announcement made, but I would venture a guess that NBC Sports Network would be the goal and NHL Network being a viable second option.

Considering the event will need a few years to really get up and running, I think that expectations should be tempered. Particularly because it is really only the second event of its kind as the Top Prospects game is the original. I would assume that USA Hockey plans on this to be a rotating game that will play games in various cities throughout the nation. However, I think the Sabres and city of Buffalo would be wise to push for FNC to be the permanent venue for the All-American Prospects game.

I don’t think there are too many cities that would readily embrace an event of this scale for a few reasons. First, not too many hockey fans are as in-tune with draft prospects (unless you’re Kris Baker). Second, the collegiate and junior hockey fan base is thin throughout the United States. I’m sure Grand Forks (University of North Dakota) and the Twin Cities (University of Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth and high school hockey) would go crazy about checking out this game. But I doubt there will be much clamoring to bring this game to many other cities. If that assumption is indeed true, why not lock Buffalo in as the permanent host?

Personally, I don’t think there are many fans in Buffalo who will have unbridled interest in this game. But I do think it will draw a sizeable crowd. While Western New York isn’t as nuts about college, junior and high school hockey as Minnesota, I think there will be enough fan support to make this viable. Getting two full hockey teams, parents, support staff, coaches and USA Hockey brass rolling into the city on a yearly basis is why I think the Sabres should secure FNC as the permanent venue.

Sure, there isn’t anything in place to make the visitors rave about the amount of fun they had, but that is supposed to be coming soon. Once Canalside progresses further than barren fields, it will be a nice place to send the kids and parents to during their brief stay in the city. The other reason to lock this event in? Further entrenching Buffalo as a hockey town.

Too often I feel that Buffalo and Western New York is passed over by Massachusetts, Minnesota and Detroit in terms of the best hockey markets. I don’t think it is an appropriate train of thought. Sure, there are too many youth programs that thin out talent and there is only one true junior program in the area. However, I think you would be hard pressed to find a population more centered around hockey than Buffalo. Basically, every kid is playing the sport in one way or the other for some time and their parents are equally involved with the game through their kids and the Sabres. Making Buffalo the home All-American Prospects game would help to draw more attention to this hockey-mad region.

Ted Black said Buffalo was to become Hockey Heaven. I guess he wasn’t kidding. With the Sabres’ involvement, I have little doubt this new event will blossom into a truly impressive showcase.

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