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Canada Wins Thriller over Russia in Toronto

World Juniors: Buffalo's Bid Awaits

Many hockey fans here in Buffalo were riveted to their TV sets this past Monday, watching the gold medal matchup in the IIHF U20 World Championships.

It was Canada. It was Russia. The same two teams who clashed at First Niagara Center in the finals four years ago. Everyone remembers that night, a raucous red and white clad crowd in full throated support of the Canadians, only to see the Russians score five goals in the third period to win the title by a 5-3 score.

And what a game this week. Canada roared to a 5-1 lead, only to see it disappear as the physical Russians continued to crash the net and reduce the deficit to 5-4 as the second period ended. The third period was one of those end to end, many scoring chances and odd man rushes type of frame, which is why we love the sport so much. No goals were scored, but even the last 90 seconds were white knuckle thrilling. When the Buffalo Sabres’ Sam Reinhart won the final faceoff and harmlessly sent the puck into the corner, it set off a wild celebration across Canada, and even in parts of the United States.

For Buffalo Sabres fans, this World Juniors was especially satisfying. Reinhart collected at least a point in each of the seven games he played. Over on the Team USA side, Sabres prospect Hudson Fasching contributed mightily for the Americans.

The tournament moves to Helsinki, Finland in 2016, and then returns to Canada in 2017, with Toronto and Montreal once again scheduled to co-host the event.

But locally, everyone’s attention is turned towards 2018. That is the next slot for the United States to host the tournament, and to say that Buffalo is interested in being that host city would be an understatement.

Sabres officials have been quietly courting the brass from USA Hockey for years. Buffalo landed the USA Prospects Game, and this week HarborCenter is hosting the IIHF women’s U18 world championship. On Monday night USA beat Canada 2-1 before a packed house. The event couldn’t have been scripted any better, with a good number of girls’ youth teams in attendance, hockey representatives from all over the world, and a true international feel to the entire spectacle. The tournament goes on all weekend and culminates with the gold medal game at HarborCenter this Monday.

Behind the scene there are many moving parts. Buffalo has built the perfect destination to host the World Juniors, with the only three rink major facility in the country. Then there is the issue with the organization of the event itself—everything from hotels to shuttles to hospitality centers, and again, this week’s event is demonstrating that Buffalo is more than up to the task. At Monday’s opening, representatives from the Russian and Japanese teams were raving as to the quality of the accommodations, and the friendliness of the locals.

Move on to Canalside, tailor made for an “Olympic Village” format. HarborCenter President John Koelmel said as much in an interview late last year, where he stated that his staff plans to partner with the ECHDC’s event management crew in developing themed festivals to surround major events in his building.

That will get a whirl this weekend, with a three day Winter Festival scheduled from Friday to Sunday at the foot of Main Street.

It starts with an outdoor happy hour on Friday outside 716 Food and Sport. On Saturday there will be free horse carriage rides, and events sponsored by the Explore and More Childrens Museum and the Tifft Farm Nature Preserve, along with music under a heated tent.

“We have pieces in place to welcome visitors to HarborCenter at these major events, and make this a truly destination experience,” said Koelmel. “These are the kind of things that the major tournaments look for. It’s no longer just about the games and prepping the arena. It’s all the other things going on. Buffalo’s been up to the challenge in the past and we are going to raise the bar for future such events.”

Sizing up the USA competition? Tampa, which landed a NCAA Frozen Four, is boasting that they have enough Canadian snowbirds in their region to make the World Juniors a success. Plus Lightning owner Jeff Vinik just unveiled plans for a billion dollar makeover of the arena’s Channelside district. Detroit will be opening their new arena in 2017. Pittsburgh and the Consol Energy Center are also in the mix.

The announcement for the host venue for the 2018 World Juniors should come later this year. Buffalo and the IIHF...a match made in Hockey Heaven.


• After more than 15 years, the Artvoice billboard of former Bills kicker Steve Christie, emblazoned on the façade of the old AM&A’s building on Main Street, finally bit the dust thanks to the high winds on Christmas Day. The sign was erected when Taylors department store was the tenant, and was only supposed to be in place a few months. Taylors shut down, yet the sign remained, and became an iconic part of downtown’s public art scene. More than a few people lamented the disappearance of the billboard, which was reported on all major local news outlets. So from Taro... thank you Steve Christie, for reading Artvoice. You will be missed.

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