While most local hockey fans are eagerly awaiting the start of the Buffalo Sabres' new season, an annual hockey event continues today inside HarborCenter. Scouts from college and professional hockey teams have come to Buffalo. What's happening there attracts as many as 200 scouts who come to look at prospects, playing under the same roof.
The Ontario Junior Hockey League, a 22-team league whose clubs include the Buffalo Junior Sabres, is hosting its annual Governor's Showcase in Buffalo for the second consecutive season. As a Junior A level league, players are ages 16 to 20 and play at an elite level that makes them serious contenders for college scholarships.
HarborCenter and the Junior Sabres were able to convince the league, which previously moved its annual showcase to venues throughout Southern Ontario, to bring the event to Buffalo.
Marty Savoy, the OJHL's Commissioner, has been most pleased with Buffalo's job as a host. He especially appreciates the convenience HarborCenter provides for the estimated 200 college and pro scouts that are expected to visit the Showcase, which began on Monday and concludes Wednesday evening. With hockey rinks, a hotel and restaurants on the same site, as well as other hotels and eateries a short distance from the building, league officials see the Showcase in Buffalo as a setup that makes the scouts' jobs much easier.
"They don't have to get into their cars and drive and come back and forth. They can stay for the late game and when they're tired, the can head back or go to the restaurants," Savoy said. "It's the whole amenities that are around us that support an event like this."
While a dollar amount was not estimated, league and Jr. Sabres officials agreed that the Showcase was generating a noteworthy economic impact for the city. Larry Playfair, a former player for the National Hockey League's Sabres and currently the Jr. Sabres' team governor, says the businesses downstairs from the rink were enjoying steady business during the Showcase.
"And the Courtyard (hotel) is next door, so we've had a lot of teams come into town and stay at the local hotels, and there's 22 teams in the league," Playfair said. "That's brought a certain economic value to the area."
It has also brought scouts from NCAA Division I and Division III hockey programs, as well as some from the NHL. On Tuesday afternoon, many of those scouts gathered along the boards to watch two OJHL teams play on one rink, and then moved to the other rink to see the other game in progress.
The Junior Sabres, for their part, have developed players who have gone on to numerous college hockey teams, including Canisius and Niagara. The program, under its previous incarnation Niagara Scenics, developed many player who advanced to the NHL, including current Buffalo Sabres captain Brian Gionta.
"If you look at most of the college rosters locally, they're all dotted with OJHL players," said Nicholas Fattey, Vice President and Director of Hockey at HarborCenter. "Whether it's the D-3s, D-1s, even the NHL Draft has a few OJHL players as well. It's really a good league, and a good spot for all sorts of scouts, from college to junior to every level in between."
Since the opening of HarborCenter, Buffalo has secured the role of host for numerous hockey events including the NHL's Player Combine, during which prospective draft picks work out and interview before the teams. The Sabres are expected to use the building significantly when it hosts the IIHF World Junior Championship, beginning in December 2017.
Many believe Buffalo could also become the regular go-to place for the OJHL's annual scouting bonanza. The league's commissioner didn't directly suggest it, but he spoke of great satisfaction by the league's other clubs. Some, he hinted, even expressed a little jeaplousy over HarborCenter.
"This facility is state-of-the-art. It's absolutely beautiful for us," Savoy said.
"That combination of it all makes it almost a no-brainer to have it here each year."
The Jr. Sabres won their first game of the Showcase on Monday, defeating Aurora 3-2. The team was scheduled to play its second game against Newmarket at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.