The world’s best youth hockey players have arrived in Buffalo. Tuesday is the start of the 2018 IIHF World Juniors.
Thirty-one games, 10 teams. For the first time in seven years, the best youth hockey talent in the world will take to the rinks at Keybank Center, Harbor Center and even New Era Field—all in pursuit of a gold medal. The United States won it last year and is eager to repeat.
Buffalo Sabres Senior Vice President Michael Gilbert said, without the NHL allowing their players to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the focus on international hockey will be placed on its younger players.
"Team USA has a center, Casey Middlestadt, who we drafted last year in June. He’s at the University of Minnesota right now. He’ll be playing. He’s a bright future for us," Gilbert said. "Alexander Nylander, we drafted him a year ago, he’s playing with Team Sweden.”
That brand of youth hockey is not entirely new for local residents.
“Some of these players that are in this event are future Olympians. The Olympics are always best on best. It will be interesting to see how all that plays out in the coming weeks," he said. "Looking at it here, we’re just excited to have these athletes here in town in Buffalo and get a chance to showcase their skills here. People are really going to see a good brand of hockey.”
USA Hockey Assistant Executive Director Mike Bertsch is impressed with the talent Buffalo is producing.
“There’s a lot of kids that are making our teams now. The international teams. There’s a lot of kids that are showing up on the radar for division colleges," Bertsch said. "So it’s a hotbed for hockey and I expect that to continue on.”
Buffalo also is one of the strongest markets in NHL viewership. Bertsch said that is a big factor when deciding where to host an event like this.
"The proximity certainly doesn’t hurt. We’re right on the border and got the Canadians that want to come across and be a part of this event as well," he said, "but when you see the enthusiasm in Buffalo and they’ve had their ups and downs, we recognize that in terms of what’s happened with some of their teams, but they have been true diehards when it comes to sport and athletics and supporting kids.”
Tickets are available for all games. Canalside is hosting Championship Village, an Olympic village-like atmosphere, through January 5 that is free and open to the public.