The “WOW” factor continues on the Harbor Front in Buffalo, that’s according to HARBORCENTER President John Koelmel.
While Koelmel brought the media together to clarify some of the speculation surrounding the development of the HARBORCENTER and the relationship of the Buffalo Sabres organization to the hockey community, he also made three major announcements.
The announcements of the establishment of the HARBORCENTER Academy of Hockey and the naming of Kevyn Adams as vice president and director of the Academy come as the Buffalo Sabres organization put hockey at the core of everything they will be doing at HARBORCENTER.
The next was the announcement that the Buffalo Junior Sabres had been awarded a New York State Amateur Hockey Association franchise and would expand the program to include two Pee Wee, two Bantam and two Midget teams under the direction of Larry Playfair and Michael Peca.
Koelmel introduced the team as a group that looks forward to building an organization that is the best they can be and providing leadership across the region.
“We want to ensure you that you (local hockey organizations) will fit into the partnerships and be part of the collaborations,” said Koelmel. “We will show you what this means to your teams, your organizations and your children.”
“We are in the hockey business now,” said Koelmel.
Koelmel went on to describe the hockey complex which includes two ice rinks on the sixth floor; above that a 12 story hotel and below the rinks, a two-story parking ramp. There will be retail shops, a restaurant own and operated by the Pegula group.
“Next year at this time the rink, restaurant, retail and parking ramp will be up and running.
“The hotel is scheduled to open in Spring 2015,” continued Koelmel.
“This is a source of pride for the area and an anchor for the canalside and downtown Buffalo.”
In continuing the “walk-thru” of the hockey complex, Rink 1 will extend to the 7th floor with seating for 2,000 spectators. Rink 1 will be used by Canisius College’s D1 program and Rink 2 will be used by the Buffalo Junior Sabres and the Sabres Youth Program. There are 11 locker rooms with two of them designated for the Junior Sabres and Canisius.
A high performance off ice workout area that is twice the size of the one the Buffalo Sabres use in First Niagara will also provide opportunities to develop players year ‘round.
There will be classrooms for off-ice training along with administrative offices for coaches and hockey rink staff.
“We want to make this the best destination for hockey across the country,” said Koelmel.
“We have the unique combination of talent, facilities and technology to set new standards,” he continued. “You will see us innovative and incredibly supportive.”
“There’s a lot of great hockey going on in Buffalo and Western New York, “ said Nik Fattey, vice president and director of hockey, HARBORCENTER.
Fattey explained that there are 28,000 hockey players, coaches and referees in WNY. With 44,000 in New York State, 50% are coming from the WNY area. NY is the third largest state in the United States for hockey.
“We’ve got talent and location,” Fattey went on. “Twenty-six percent of the NHL players are from New York State or Southern Ontario.
“Five members of the 2010 Olympic Team were from this area.”
With that said, Fattey went on to explain that the organization is planning to create a world class training facility using expertise, innovation, leadership, technology and opportunity to provide players a place to develop to their fullest potential.
“The Academy is a place to learn,” said Fattey.
In addition Fattey announced the Youth Partnership Program with the Sabres organization partnerning with local youth organizations and providing those organizations with the expertise of HARBORCENTER coaches.
“We see you bringing your players to the arena for a day,” Fattey explained. “There would be Junior Sabres here, you could use our coaching experience to develop your player’s skills and develop practice plans are are age appropriate.”
“Everyone would be learning together,” said Fattey. “We would also send our coaches to your rink and work with your team.”
They are also looking at a Coaching Program that would allow youth organization coaches to come to the Academy of Hockey and learn how to run practices, learn the technology of breaking down video, and how to run tournaments as well as coaching techniques.
“I’m really excited about this opportunity,” said Fattey.
Adams, who grew up playing hockey in the WNY area, played for the NHL, won a Stanley Cup and coached at the NHL level. He is also a Dad who has coached.
“I’ve come full circle and now can share what I’ve learned with the next generation,” said Adams. “Combining a world class facility with expert teaching and coaching instruction will give players locally and from around the world a place to develop and learn the game of hockey.
“We want to be known as a development destination, premiere as you can find,” he continued.
“It’s hard to coach youth hockey,” Adams went on. “We want to help association’s coaches with what a practice plan is, a game plan, learn hockey systems and arm them with the knowledge so they can go back to their association and help their players, which ultimately helps hockey at the grassroots level.”
During the hockey season the Academy will be available for players to come for power skating, skill development or position-specific training.
“We want to make them better during the season,” said Adams.
The off-season, which Koelmel sees as being the busiest time of the year, Adams sees more for the elite player who wants to continue their development. It may include bringing in world-class players and coaches to share their knowledge and expertise with those players.
“The vision of the Pegula’s and John matches my vision,” said Adams. “I’m energized, excited and looking forward to the challenge and to the changing landscape of hockey and its future in WNY.”
Larry Playfair, president of the Buffalo Junior Sabres, explained that earlier this year there was plans to purchase the Buffalo Regals Tier I team.
“That never finalized and in April we were awarded a franchise in the NYS Amateur Hockey Association,” explained Playfair.
“This town needs a junior team,” he continued. “Players need a place to play.”
“The success of the Junior Sabres has come from good coaching and Peca has taken the team to a first place finish last year and they are in first place this season.
“College scouts come to see our boys and consequently, they look at other teams while they are here.
“We measure our success in the Junior Sabres by asking ‘are we moving our kids along?’” said Playfair.
The answer is yes!
Junior Sabres players are playing at Niagara University, Canisius and currently five are committed to NCAA schools.
Playfair explained that in the early years the Junior Sabres were the perennial last place team. But with structure, quality coaching and “a little bit of money,” they slowly have moved up.
“We started to give boys in WNY that thought that they didn’t have to go someplace else to play to get noticed,” he said.
Playfair went on to explain that the OJHL has taken notice of the HARBORCENTER plans and the league is looking forward to bringing events to Buffalo.
“The new building will be the envy of the League and I’m not going to apologize for that,” said Playfair with a smile.
Playfair also acknowledged the Northtowns Center of Amherst for being an excellent landlord to the team over the years.
“It’s easy to understand why we want to partner,” said Michael Peca, head coach and general manager of the Buffalo Junior Sabres.
“When kids reach age 11 they begin to come into their own and we want to nurture and bring them along as players,” said Peca.
“Coaching is crucial to developing young players,” he continued. “It’s not about being the best, it’s about being the most successful.”
“One of the most important things this facility will provide is making sure this community is held in high light because NY has a lot of tremendous hockey players,” said Peca.
“We will provide a leadership role,” he emphasized. “There are a lot of great organizations with tremendous volunteers that put in a lot of time over the years. That doesn’t go away.
“We want our program to be included in the outreach. We want to make sure we are part of this community and will provide whatever we can.”
More information on what HARBORCENTER will look like and provide to the community can be found at the newly established website: www.harborcenter.com
Over the years people have asked when would the Sabres take part in the youth hockey movement in WNY. The Pegula’s have taken the step and as Koelmel would say, “The WOW factor” is here in not only in theory but is being built and will open next Fall.