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The Harbor Center Evolution

While building goes up, character and soul take shape

About a year ago, a very small yet very noisy band of critics were painting a vision of Harbor Center that for the most part branded the new facility as a “glorified big box parking ramp.” The size, the fenestration, the bridge over Perry Street…all signs of the coming apocalypse.

Rational thinking carried the day, approvals were meted out in a fashion and a timetable almost unheard of around these parts, and down at the foot of Main Street, work is proceeding rapidly on a project which promises to be a transformational one for Canalside and downtown Buffalo’s future.

What we already know about HarborCenter is a mixed-use facility the likes of which has no peer or precedent anywhere: two ice rinks, one with a spectator capacity of 1800 seats; some ground floor retail including a two-level, sports-themed restaurant which promises to be world class; a 200-room Marriott hotel; and indoor parking for more than 800 cars, giving the Inner Harbor much needed parking capacity not only for events in this facility and the First Niagara Center, but also for the growing number of events taking place in the emerging neighborhood.

This past week, the public got a better feel as to just what happenings will take place in a building ready-made for the Hockey Heaven theme. HarborCenter president John Koelmel unveiled his management and programming team, shared floor plans for the interior of the center, and even rolled out some of the unique food items that fans can expect to find at the concession stands adjacent to the rinks.

“This will be a facility that will be in constant use on a year-round basis. In fact, what is normally considered hockey’s off-season, that will be our prime season,” said Koelmel, as he announced that the Buffalo Junior Sabres, run by former Sabres greats Larry Playfair and Michael Peca, will be rolling out seven separate age tiers of hockey. Of course, the Junior Sabres will be playing at HarborCenter, as will the Division 1 Canisius Golden Griffins hockey team. Both programs will have their own dedicated locker room space at the facility.

But the centerpiece of programming will be the newly coined Academy of Hockey, a year-round training facility that will use a bevy of coaches to provide skill instruction and education to help players grow in their sport. The academy will be led by former NHL player and Sabres assistant coach Kevyn Adams.

A Buffalo area native and resident, Adams is relishing his new role and shaping the visions of this program. “We want to be the best in class. We want to bring in people who are the best in what they do. We want to be truly unique because if we just do the same thing that’s always been done its not what were striving for. We want to be the development destination for hockey, and that’s my task to make sure were shaping that the right way, and get that whole project to the place that were striving for.”

Adams spoke wistfully of his years growing up in Western New York, and the decisions he and his family made while still a child to commit to a possible career as a hockey player. What would it have meant to him to have something like the Academy of Hockey available to him as an up and coming player? “It’s something I’ve thought about. When you’re on a team you ride with the players, you go to practices and games, you call your dad, and that’s it. What I’ve found is that the more serious hockey players are craving for more. They want the ‘How can I invest just a little more time to take my game to the next level.’ A forward needs different drills than a defenseman, and a goalie needs different drills than a forward or a defenseman. So for me to go to back to that age, it would be something I’d be dying for, for sure. And to be taught by people that are experts in the field. “

Koelmel promised more announcements to come in the coming weeks. “We’ll have more on the retail tenants, and information on the sports restaurant which we will be operating. Meanwhile, enjoy the Beef on Weck Burger and the Pittsburgh Sandwich [a Primanti Brothers knockoff]. At HarborCenter, the food experience won’t be your ordinary hot dog.”

Taro Sez (Lindy edition)

• At long last the Sabres front office finally got it right. This past Monday, at the first media timeout, out came the Lindy Ruff highlight reel, and the ovation was so loud and so prolonged that fans in the arena couldn’t hear the accompanying narrative. There were more than a few moist eyes in the building, most notably from Ruff himself.

• If you were a fan watching at home back in Dallas on their network, you got to see the whole thing live as it was happening. If you were a fan watching at home here in Buffalo on MSG, you got to see a station break and commercials.

• Once the video was released on and, the presentation quickly earned plaudits from media outlets and national sportswriters all across the USA and Canada.

• So…when will Taro Tsujimoto be getting his long-overdue sendoff?

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