Searching for Hockey Heaven

A clarion call should go out to the league and to hockey players everywhere, that Buffalo is hockey heaven. – Ted Black, February 22, 2011

Those words will be difficult to forget. It marked the start of what was expected to be a long, happy relationship between the Buffalo Sabres and their fans. However, just over two years later things aren’t as rosy as they were on Pegula Day.

Give Terry Pegula and his management team credit, they took strides towards improving things on and off the ice. They renovated the locker room, upgraded the concourses and introduced numerous new features throughout the arena in an effort to make First Niagara Center a hockey mecca. The under construction HARBORcenter project proves just that. Pegula even gave the go-ahead to empty the Brinks truck in free agency as the Sabres went out and snagged a pair of the most sought after free agents in the 2011 crop.

Yet, here we are. The Sabres are languishing for a second-straight season, the coach has been fired and the hot topic of conversation now centers around booing. It seems like Buffalo has become Hockey Purgatory, not Hockey Heaven.

All of the good will generated in the 2011 offseason seems to have been erased by two seasons of largely lethargic hockey and below average results. Losses on the ice have transformed to frustration in the stands as the ever enlightened fan base with the high #hockeyIQ has resorted to booing at the drop of a hat at some points this year. Now, as the Sabres draw closer to a lottery selection than a playoff spot, the question I ask is: How far gone is the mindset of Hockey Heaven?

This isn’t about the incessant boos the rain down on the team almost every night. Booing isn’t a subject I care to delve into as fans will always have the liberty to do whatever they please with their tickets; particularly when the product they’re paying to see is underperforming. Of course, that doesn’t mean that piling on a group of players who only have a partial responsibility in the current situation doesn’t seem like the best way to spend that energy.

Perhaps if they at least waited until the end of a particularly horrid period, no need to jump on a team after one or two shifts in a game they’re winning.

Regardless, what I’ve begun to wonder is what the growing volatility within First Niagara Center will do for the Sabres rep with players around the league. Even with the dazzling locker room and the bottomless pockets and sincerity of the owner; how attractive is Buffalo going to be for those outside the organization? Continue reading

Pegula Ice Arena progressing towards completion

This is a special guest submission from Kyle Rossi who runs the blog Thank You Terry. His blog is all about Penn State hockey – both club and NCAA – and is full of phenomenal information. I highly recommend reading it on a regular basis. Kyle was kind enough to offer some insight to the progress being made on the Pegula Ice Arena down in State College. Given the Sabres recent victory regarding the Webster Block, I thought there would be no one better to provide some insight on the scope of a Pegula funded project such as the PIA or the HARBORcenter. Enjoy.

Hey Sabres fans! My name is Kyle Rossi, and I write Thank You Terry, a blog covering the soon-to-be four hockey teams representing Penn State (men’s and women’s NCAA, men’s and women’s ACHA). As I’m sure you know, you and I both share a debt of gratitude to one rather wealthy man: Terry Pegula.

The rendering of what the finished Pegula Ice Arena will look like.

Our stories are actually somewhat parallel. While Buffalo was wandering through a purgatory characterized by an always-competitive team that never saw a free agent it couldn’t lose (or a scouting department it couldn’t slash) and therefore couldn’t take the final couple of steps, Penn State was dealing with its own sort of limbo. Our non-varsity teams, known as the Icers and Lady Icers, had been considered candidates to make the jump to the big time, NCAA Division I, for decades – if only the school could find some money for a DI-caliber hockey arena. Despite PSU’s glut of success in the ACHA (including seven national championships), the program’s rabid supporters were always just one “hey, when are you guys going DI?” from an outsider away from a feeling of hopelessness.

Suddenly, in swoops this billionaire nobody had ever heard of to write large checks and save the day. In the Sabres’ case, I suppose he wasn’t a complete unknown, but there still had to be a “wait…this guy’s a Sabres fan…and he wants to buy the team?!?” moment for you guys.

Anyway, Chris invited me to write this post to update you on the progress of something possibly of interest of you, the arena bearing Pegula’s name on Penn State’s campus.

You might be familiar with some of the widely-reported basics. There will be two NHL-sized sheets, one in what’s being called the Community Rink, which will have 300 seats, the other in the main arena, which will seat 6,000. Five thousand of those seats will be arranged in a single-level horseshoe, with a ring of suites above the open concourse that will be at the top of the “regular person” seating. The final thousand seats will be the student section, to be located behind the net Penn State will attack twice. It will be as steep as code allows, helping to meet the one major directive Pegula has given on the project, that the building “sound like a hockey game inside of a garbage can” on game days.

“It should sound like a hockey game inside a garbage can.” Terry Pegula

The price tag – $89 million – is absolutely staggering for a college hockey facility of its size. For context on that, one only needs to consider some of the venues toured by a Penn State contingent (including Pegula) in 2010 to generate design ideas. Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena, which opened last season, cost about $50 million. Miami’s Goggin Ice Center cost $35 million (in 2006). Minnesota-Duluth’s AMSOIL Arena opened in late 2010 at a cost of $38 million, while RIT’s proposed Gene Polisseni Center, the most likely candidate to replace the Pegula Ice Arena as the newest in college hockey, is estimated to cost around $35 million. Basically, if Penn State gets anything approaching dollar-for-dollar value on this project, it will instantly become the crown jewel of college hockey. Continue reading

New Sabres locker room open for business

The Sabres returned to the First Niagara Center – which is receiving new outer signage this week – for their first practice session since returning from Europe. They were greeted with a shiny new players lounge and locker room.

I don't know why, but this is my favorite feature. It screams professionalism for some reason.

John Vogl and Bill Hoppe were quick to Tweet pictures (thanks for the entry image Bill) and Jessie Pegula followed up with some later in the day. The Buffalo News gallery has some very good shots that are slightly higher quality than a camera phone offers.

From the few pictures I have seen, this thing is outstanding.

The signage, decor and overall look of the outer features are very cool (entry image). It translates to the Sabres Hall of Fame wall and the retired numbers. All of this is equally impressive and incredibly cool. For some reason the Buffalo Sabres wall strikes me as one of the coolest features. I’m not sure why, but it just looks like something a winning team has.

As for the interior, I can’t tell much from the pictures. However, the player’s lounge looks pretty cool as does the locker room itself. It is very open – to promote communication – and the decor is very similar to the outer portion. The Sabres logos at the center of the room are the obvious focal points, while each player stall has a picture of the player in action. There is also a quote over the door way that reads, “Belief, Commitment, Character, Discipline, Trust” all above the word “Excellence.”

It has a “Play Like A Champion Today” feel to it. While I’m not an NHL player, I have to say this is quite an awe striking renovation. It wouldn’t be fair to say they have gotten anything right or wrong, but from where I’m sitting there can’t be too much missing. I know the goal was to catch up to some of the newer buildings and the state-of-the-art rooms around the league. I think it is safe to assume this locker facility is second to none.

Between the minor touches around the arena and this project, I have to think that Terry Pegula took the First Niagara Center from a 15-year old building to a five-year old building with little more than a snap of his fingers. There are certain things that can’t be changed in that building, but he certainly put it in the neighborhood of the newest buildings in the league.

Keep an eye on The Buffalo News and for more pictures as the week progresses.

Ryan Fitzpatrick saved Buffalo from becoming a hockey town

Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills resurgence has captivated Buffalo sports fans and kept the city from thinking hockey-first. While the Sabres will lose top billing for the time being, they will benefit from a shared spotlight.

Just six and a half short months ago Terry Pegula looked down at Gilbert Perreault and cried. That action galvanized nearly every sports fan in Buffalo. It was an act that began to turn Buffalo into a true hockey town.

Under the guidance of Terry Pegula the Sabres fan base has continued to explode.

Pegula immediately put his plan into action to create Hockey Heaven. As the season wore down his team clawed their way into the playoffs and pushed the defending Eastern Conference Champions to the brink of elimination.

Once the summer hit, Pegula kept rolling. He unleashed Darcy Regier, who quickly brought in high-priced troops to improve the Sabres roster. Pegula’s team began a massive remodeling of the locker facilities in the First Niagara Center. Renovations were made to the concession areas and every slug logo, short of the ones on the banners, were stripped from the arena. Life in Pegulaville was in full swing.

All of this action swept Sabres fans off their feet while the NFL lockout was in full effect. Now, the “lockout” was a complete sham and only a few pieces of the NFL offseason were lost. There was never a threat of games being missed. However, the exasperated Buffalo fan base was just about ready to push the Bills aside, as a roster of undrafted free agents and no-names opened training camp. Continue reading

My Sabres practice arena pipedream

I am a big proponent for developing the city of Buffalo. I even touch on it in this space from time to time. Those of you who follow me on Twitter, or sit behind me at work, know that I have been dreaming up a grand vision for a practice/junior hockey venue near HSBC Arena.

After a little bit of Photoshop and Illustrator work I have a picture to go with my ramblings. Please excuse the polish of my work, I am quite the novice when it comes to both Photoshop and Illustrator. The pictures and overall vision can be found after the jump.

I gave this creation a name just so it looks a little less bare. I chose to call it the New Era Centre because the cap company is a large Buffalo-based corporation and the name flowed well off my tongue.

Basically this idea cropped up in my head because there are two enormous, barren surface lots in the “Cobblestone District” that don’t get very much use. It is a real shame because the remaining buildings in the District have a similar feel to the Distillery District in Toronto. I began thinking of things that could be put in their place to add some life and density to a neighborhood that is composed of about six buildings on one city block. This multi-purpose arena came to mind.

Continue reading

Welcome to Hockey Heaven

I’m in the process of completing a Photoshop project that will show my grand plan for the red wall that currently adorns the 100 level. Part of my plan is to include, what I think should be, the Sabres new catchphrase or slogan Hockey Heaven.

I guess I’m not the only one who has jumped all over Ted Black’s awesome tag line. This video was put together by the people running the Hockey Heaven Facebook page.

I am all aboard for Buffalo officially becoming known as Hockey Heaven. Let Detroit be Hockeytown and completely forget “the City of Hockey” that has no flow. Hockey Heaven is where it’s at, and Buffalo is Hockey Heaven.