When the HARBORcenter was first announced, the heads of the project all said they believed that the project would be incredibly important for Buffalo. This was not only due to what was physically in the building, like hotels, training facilities, and the new (716) Food and Sport announced yesterday, but the things that the building could help bring to Buffalo. It has already landed them a two deal year with USA hockey for the All-American Prospects Game, and this week it came out that the NHL draft combine could be next.
A while back I wrote about the possibility of a junior team landing in the new facility, and although it might not be as much of a spectator event as that, the combine makes just as much if not more sense. Strategically it could work perfectly for the NHL and even allow them to expand the event to be more like the NFL.
First of all, there is obviously the intriguing idea with brand new facilities that offer more than what the league currently has holding the combine in Toronto. Surprisingly, the combine workouts currently takes place in a large conference room, and the event doesn't have any on-ice workouts, which is part of the reason why the Sabres have been hosting their own on-ice days for the past few years. The HARBORcenter would allow them to diversify their tests, allowing teams to see prospects on both the bikes and the three rinks available. This would make the combine more like the NFL, where players frequently participate in actual football drills to help teams get more of the full picture.
A facet of the HARBORcenter that may be overlooked in all this would be the Marriott, which would allow many of the participants involved to stay right at the arena complex. Not only is this convenient for the players and team personnel, but the conference rooms would also allow for plenty of room for staff meetings or interviews with the players. The (716) and hotel will allow for food right there, and if they want to mix things up it'll be a short commute to the top restaurants in the city.
It's goes without saying that this would be appealing to the Sabres, as it allows the team to show off all the facilities that they are rolling out. I'm sure they'd be giddy to think the road to the NHL starts in Buffalo, especially based on their comments regarding the All-American Prospects Game. Even though players don't have much of a choice on where they are selected in the draft, years down the line when they are free agents they could have a more positive view of the Sabres organization.
Buffalo can also have a bad reputation, because it isn't exactly the most luxurious spot for a millionaire to land. However, so many former Sabres love staying here after they leave. After players get to Buffalo, they tend to like it. Thus, having everyone in the city to show them some of the perks about living in Buffalo could help eliminate some stereotypes.
The combine in Buffalo is a match made in heaven for Buffalo and the NHL, and really does show an emergence of Terry Pegula in the league circles - this combined with a rumored World Junior Championship bid in 2018 and the addition of the Al-American Prospects game are all steps toward finally turning Buffalo into Hockey Heaven. The team may not be there just yet, but everything off the ice is certainly on the upswing. The city of Buffalo is used to projects falling through, so it's a nice change of pace to see one that is paying dividends before it's even done.
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