Last week, the Sabres and Canisius confirmed what many hockey fans in Buffalo had long assumed; the Golden Griffins will call HARBORcenter home starting in the 2014-15 season.
With the Griffs set to become the primary tenant at Terry Pegula’s newest contribution to downtown Buffalo, the ripple effects on hockey at the local and national level should be seen sooner rather than later.
The 1,800 seat facility will most definitely help the Sabres draw attention for such events like the All-Star Game, World Junior Championships and perhaps even the Frozen Four. The lodging, ice availability and attraction of the $172 million facility should bolster the resume for the Sabres and First Niagara Center. Not to mention the positive returns the Golden Griffins will enjoy in terms of exposure and on the recruiting trail.
However, there is one road that I’m still waiting for the Griffs, Sabres and most importantly, Terry Pegula to explore. The creation of a yearly tournament, jointly hosted by the Sabres and Canisius as a way to showcase the program, First Niagara Center as well as HARBORcenter. In some ways it would be a recreation of the Punch Imlach Invitational that was ran in the early 2000s, but I’d like to see things improved in the future.
Any college hockey invitational tournament will be too large for the 1,800 seat HARBORcenter. But using the facility as a springboard for more attention for NCAA hockey in the city is going to benefit all parties involved. The Imlach Invitational tournament had the potential to be awesome but it never seemed to take hold with residents. With HARBORcenter acting as a catalyst for the Griffins coupled with the on-ice success that Canisius and Niagara have enjoyed, I have to think that a new and improved version would be a great success.
While I love the prestige of the set field of the Beanpot, offering a rotating set of opponents (like the GLI) is a great way to increase exposure. Using tournaments like the Beanpot and GLI as a guide, however, should be step one for the Sabres and Griffs. With Canisius and Niagara serving as hosts, Pegula’s other pet team, Penn State, is the most obvious addition as the third opponent. Those three teams, in my opinion, should be locked in as participants in this tournament. What could be cool would be to make this an Atlantic Hockey vs. B1G challenge of sorts, pulling from the pool other B1G schools to round out the field.
Although I don’t think it would be feasible for Penn State to be a co-host, including the Nittany Lions in this new tournament (let’s call it the Pegula Challenge) would link the programs (Sabres, Canisius and PSU) most directly influenced by Pegula. In addition, Penn State would serve as the key cog in bringing other B1G or nationally prominent programs to the tournament. Not to mention the eyes of the B1G Network’s television audience.
I prefer the idea of keeping this strictly Atlantic Hockey vs. B1G as a way to promote rivalries despite the fact that using other conferences would help usher more teams and fanbases through WNY.
One issue in trying to keep this to an Atlantic Hockey vs. B1G showdown is the mainstay that is the GLI. With Michigan and Michigan State locked into that tournament, a pair of B1G powers are immediately excluded from an invite out to Western New York. If avoiding stepping on the toes of the GLI is the goal, perhaps keeping Canisius, NU and PSU as the three cornerstones with a fourth rotating invite is the best policy.
Of course if the GLI continues with Western Michigan as the fourth participant (Michigan Tech is the host school), there would be plenty of wiggle room to bring in other programs without poaching potential GLI teams.
This is one of those ideas that I’m very hopeful to see off the drawing board and in full action in the next 12-15 months. HARBORcenter’s ice will be open by next September and the hotel is going to be ready in 2015. Let the Pegula Challenge serve as the event to officially open the doors to this awesome venue.