The NHL Draft is Coming... and Maybe More
by Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell
Commissioner Bettman in town this week for the big announcement
With HarborCenter hosting its first event on October 31 and a formal grand opening one week later, the Buffalo Sabres have been rolling out the news of more and more signature events to take place at the First Niagara Center. The team has already locked in the NHL combine and the Prospects Game for two seasons, and they have set their sights on bringing back the IIHF World Juniors in 2017, although Buffalo will undoubtedly be facing strong competition from other American cities hoping to land that marquee event.
So while this week’s news came as no huge surprise, nonetheless the official announcement was very welcome...Buffalo will be the host city for the National Hockey League entry draft, which will take place on Friday, June 24 and Saturday, June 25, 2016. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was on the dais along with Sabres president Ted Black and Buffalo mayor Byron Brown to make the announcement.
What does this mean for Buffalo? Well, a lot, actually.
The two day event is expected to pump as much as $10 million into the local economy, as hundreds of team executives from the NHL and the junior leagues, along with scouts, coaches, players, prospects and their families descend on Buffalo to take part in what will be seven rounds of player selections which take place over the course of the event.
“We’re partnering with 15 hotels, many of whom are represented here today,” said Black as he took part in the unveiling announcement. Packed hotels downtown will be one of the cornerstones of the event, with the two new properties—the Courtyard Marriott at One Canalside and the yet to be opened Marriott HarborCenter certainly serving as headquarter lodgings.
Bettman also heaped praise on the city, admitting that a number of other NHL teams had inquired about hosting the 2016 draft. “We like Buffalo because of the strong fan base, the cooperation of the mayor and the local government, the superb facilities, and the commitment by the team to make these sorts of events successful,” said Bettman. Being at the end of a long travel day, Bettman admitted that he had not yet toured HarborCenter, but was hoping to do so on his stay in Buffalo. “This is a unique facility like none other anywhere. We’re convinced that the entire hockey world will be abuzz as this will be the only three rink facility in the NHL. Buffalo, you should by very proud of what you have pulled off,” said Bettman.
The spectacle of the entry draft has grown in size and stature over the years. Buffalo last hosted the event in 1998, in what was then a one day affair. Vincent Lecavalier was chosen first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Buffalo selected defenseman Dmitri Kalinin in the first round and left winger Andrew Peters in the second round that year.
It is also a terrific viewing spectacle—while the arena floor is covered with tables and pits for each of the 30 teams, all linked to their war rooms back at their home venues, ticketed fans can watch the entire spectacle from the 200 and 300 levels, as the horse trading and machinations of the draft unfold and player after player gets called up to the stage for their first taste of the NHL.
Yet to be unveiled is what surely will be an expansive FanFest, and Canalside, which will also include the new canals, will make for a tremendous host venue. In Philadelphia last year, outdoor activities included a full size hockey rink with sticks and balls for pick up play and skills challenges, displays by all 30 teams, games and rides for kids, interactive experiences, food trucks, libations and music. “Our front office will be putting together a schedule of events to appeal to our entire fan base,” Black promised.
As for the promise of a future NHL All Star Game? “We’re waiting for a bid from Buffalo,” Bettman coyly stated. Is a bid coming? “Yes,” said Black.
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