USA Hockey announced on Friday afternoon that Team USA will take on Team Canada on December 29th, 2017 at New Era Field in front of over 70,000 fans in a preliminary round match of the 2018 IIFH World Junior Championships, a tournament that Buffalo was awarded in December of 2015. The tournament also took place in Buffalo in 2011, making the City of Good Neighbors the first American city to host the tournament on two separate occasions.
Other than the matchup at New Era Field, the tournament games will be played at KeyBank Center and the newly constructed HarborCenter, a structure that played a major role in securing the 2018 World Juniors for Buffalo. The state of the art facility, which is home to two ice rinks as well as a Marriott Hotel, has already attracted hundreds of thousands of people to the Queen City for a wide variety of hockey-related events, from the National Women’s Hockey League’s first annual All-Star Game to the 2015 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship.
The presence of the HarborCenter will allow fans to watch up to three tournament games taking place simultaneously in what is essentially one building, a ground-breaking first for the World Juniors.
The fact that an ice-rink will be present at New Era Field on January 1st, 2018 could also secure Buffalo the 2018 Winter Classic. A ready-to-go ice-rink already being there combined with the fact that January 1st, 2018 is the ten-year anniversary of the first ever Winter Classic (which also took place at New Era Field) makes more likely that the NHL could award Buffalo what has become one of the biggest games on the league’s calendar. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has commented on awarding Buffalo the 2018 Winter Classic in the past, calling it “interesting” because he “can get a better lease on the stadium this time.”
The NHL has already taken notice of Buffalo’s emergence as one of North America’s hockey hotbeds, awarding important league events to the city throughout the past number of years. The HarborCenter has been the host of the NHL’s Draft Combine for the past two years, and will return to Buffalo in 2017. Buffalo was also the host of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, and plans to make a bid for an upcoming NHL All-Star Game.
Although Buffalo’s NHL team hasn’t been great throughout the past couple of years, the city itself has become one of the most respected and sought after in hockey. The city’s passionate fans combined with its modern facilities has made it a popular destination for all things hockey, whether it be NHL events, IIHF tournaments or tournaments for minor-tier leagues around the continent.
While fans have the right to be upset about the performance of the Sabres, they should recognize and be happy that the city that the Sabres call home has become America’s hockey capital.