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Harborcenter to host college hockey finals

Thomas Paul Asklar and Matthew Singlair Conroy's winning art entry
Harborcenter To Host College Hockey Finals
College Hockey America coming to Buffalo

Maybe not on as big a stage, or with as much a buzz, but HarborCenter has landed another signature event.

Following on the success of the 2015 Women’s U18 World Juniors ice hockey tournament, which broke attendance records and attracted coaches, players and fans from countries around the world to Buffalo, people in the college hockey world took notice. And after rounds of planning and discussions that began last spring, Buffalo has landed the first ever neutral site tournament for College Hockey America, one of five conferences that participate in NCAA women’s hockey throughout the country.

“The conference commissioner, Bob DeGregorio, also serves as commissioner of the Atlantic Hockey conference, which Canisius College plays in,” Explained Nik Fattey, Vice President for Hockey at HarborCenter. “They are quite familiar with our superb facilities and staff, and took notice of the success we had with the Women’s World Juniors. We piggy backed on that success and got the ball rolling right away, and were fortunate to land this marquee event for Buffalo.”

College Hockey America is one of the smaller conferences in the NCAA, and currently has a roster of six teams—Mercyhurst, Syracuse, Robert Morris, Penn State, Lindenwood, and Rochester Institute of Technology. All but one of the schools is a doable drive from Buffalo, and the conference was looking for the ideal “neutral site” with ample player facilities and the right size arena. They found it in Buffalo.

“We’re kind of driving blind here, as we’ve never hosted our playoffs in this type of format,” said Steffan Waters, Director of Communications for CHA. “Normally our postseason has been staged at the campus sites.”

The top two teams in the conference, Mercyhurst and Syracuse, have already clinched first round byes and are guaranteed berths at the tournament at HarborCenter. The other four teams will match up in a best of three format at their campus sites this coming weekend. The two winners will advance to the Buffalo tournament.

What’s at stake here? The winner of the CHA tournament at HarborCenter will get an automatic bid to the NCAA women’s hockey tournament. Their Frozen Four takes place this year in Durham, New Hampshire.

“Eight teams make it to that tournament, with the conference champions all getting automatic bids,” said Waters. From there, a selection committee enlists the help of what is called “pairwise rankings” to award at large bids for the remaining entrants. This mostly takes into account head on head matchups and results and strength of schedule.”

Looking at the national rankings in real time, Boston College seems to have the true powerhouse womens team, and surely will be the top ranked favorite heading into the Frozen Four tournament. As of last weekend they had a perfect 32-0 record and some of their games were total blowouts.

As for CHA. “Mercyhurst has retained the flagship of conference since we formed this league in 2002,” said Waters. They actually made it to the Frozen Four a couple times, and lost in the finals a few years back. Most likely they’ll be the favorite again this year to secure the automatic bid.”

Like many of the tournaments and hockey events that filled HarborCenter since the facility opened its doors almost a year and a half ago, organizers are counting on robust participation from visiting fans who will be traveling with the team, and that means filled hotel rooms, restaurants and bars and local sightseeing. “Both Mercyhurst and Syracuse are short rides to Buffalo, so we’re hoping to be able to welcome a good contingent of their supporters,” said Fattey. Waters added, “we have some great fan contingents in our conference. The ‘Corner Crew’ at RIT is great with their songs and chants and they add a lot to the game atmosphere.”

Local fans can come see the action as well, as tickets will be priced at $10 for the semifinals, which will include both games, and $10 for the finals the following day. The dates are Friday March 4 and Saturday, March 5, with times to be announced. “There’s a good possibility that Canisius College mens hockey will be hosting a playoff game that same weekend,” said Fattey. “In addition, we are also hosting the Women’s Junior Hockey League games in the facility as well. Both rinks will be in continuous use. Expect to see a buzz of activity throughout the building, with players, coaches, parents and supporters. For the hockey purist, HarborCenter will be a lot of fun,” Fattey added.

College Hockey America is hoping for a terrific weekend. When asked if there’s a possibility that Buffalo and HarborCenter could become the annual destination for this event, Waters replied, “This is a trial run for us. And it’s going to be great exposure for us. We’re hoping for a successful event and we couldn’t have picked a better place than Buffalo. You guys have done great things there and we’re just happy to be a part of it.”

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