When Terry and Kim Pegula purchased the Sabres in 2011, one of their major goals was to transform Buffalo from a small-market city with a solid fanbase into Hockey Heaven. At the time, it seemed as far-fetched for Buffalo to surpass cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh as a hockey power players as did Pegula's promise that the Sabres would win the Stanley Cup in three years or less.
Yesterday, with the announcement that Buffalo will become the first American city to host back-to-back IIHF World Junior Championships in 2018, and that the crown jewel of the tournament would be an outdoor game between the USA and Canada at Ralph Wilson Stadium, it's clear that the Pegulas have accomplished their goal. The Sabres and the city of Buffalo are now one of the premier power players not only in the NHL, but in the world of hockey.
Since taking over as owners, the Sabres and the city of Buffalo have hosted or been awarded the following events: the 2016 NHL Draft, the 2015 and 2016 NHL Draft Combines, the USA All-American Prospects Game, the U-18 Women's World Championships, the Sledge Hockey World Championships, an NWHL team in the Buffalo Beauts, and now the 2018 World Juniors.
Essentially every major organization in men's and women's professional and junior hockey has decided to host a premiere event in Buffalo over the past few years, and the city has rolled out the red carpet each and every time to make those events not only special, but successful.
Hockey Heaven, indeed.
The Pegulas and the city of Buffalo, with all of the economic growth they've encouraged over the past few years, the completion of the HARBORCenter complex, and the successful track record in hosting they've shown since taking over the Sabres, have proven that they are now among the NHL's most powerful and influential owners. The Sabres are expected to make a play for an upcoming NHL All-Star Game and the 2018 Winter Classic to coincide with the outdoor World Junior game, and I'd be surprised if they didn't get one or both of those events, thanks to the Pegula family's combination of classiness and wealthiness, each of which seems to be endless.
From the disaster of the Rigas family to being owned by the NHL to Tom Golisano's unwillingness to spend, the Sabres ownership situation has been underwhelming, to say the least, for the 20 years before the Pegulas.
But now that Buffalo has one of the NHL's power players at the helm, the reality of Hockey Heaven has arrived in Buffalo, and it's here to stay.