By Nathan Barillari
Managing EditorFollow @NBarillari33
Today something happened that most people around here knew would happen for months: the announcement that there would be a partnership between the Buffalo Sabres and the Canisius College hockey program was officially made.
The construction of the HARBORcenter in front of the First Niagara Center will feature two NHL-sized rinks and over 200 rooms for additional building operations. It will provide room for the Sabres to practice, for youth tournaments to take place, but most importantly it will provide the Griffs hockey team with a place they can call home for the first time.
As many of you know, the Griffs have played their home games at the Buffalo State Sports Arena for over a decade. I remember when I heard this for the first time nearly two years ago when I was a freshman at Canisius and I couldn’t quite understand how a Division-I hockey program didn’t have its own hockey arena. Added to the fact that it was borrowing from a Division-III school and you were left with a very confused young sports writer.
I was left with a bitter taste right from the start. At the time, I was still developing a sense of direction on the road and coming home from my first Griffs hockey game I took the wrong exit and ended up right outside the Peace Bridge in the middle of winter at 10 o’clock at night.
The point of my digression is that any other freshman (or anybody with a lack of direction) could make the same mistake in attempting to try to go watch a hockey game off-campus. While the HARBORcenter won’t be on the actual campus, any student with a train pass can find his or her way to the HARBORcenter for any of the Griffs home games without the risk of getting lost along the way.
It’s my hopes that this new building will not only give the Griffs a place to call home, but also a place that FEELS like home, as well. In my two years writing for The Griffin and also working for the Sports Communications office, I have been to about 50 home games of all sorts so far and I can’t think of more than maybe five games that gave the player a real home field/court/ice advantage; two of these came on the two extremely loud and always exciting Kids Day game for women’s basketball.
The fact that RIT could get a small army of fans to drive an hour and a half to Buffalo to watch – and cheer for – their team play the Griffs while Canisius struggled to get any fans – loud or expressionless – to come support their own school in a five-minute drive is in some ways, embarrassing.
The Griffs gained some additional fan support last season when they upset Niagara for the Atlantic Hockey Championships and made their first-ever NCAA tournament berth. Fans made their way out to the tournament and The Griffin even did its first-ever championship edition of the paper; things were looking up.
An NCAA tournament berth for the Griffs last season is just the start; if the Griffs carry their momentum from last year and create a bigger fan base this year, look for a huge showing at the HARBORcenter when it opens its doors in 2014.
In an ideal scenario, this investment will give the Griffs more attention nationally, in addition to the guaranteed attention they’ve gotten and will continue to get locally.
Maybe, this investment makes one of those top recruits want to come play hockey at Canisius. Maybe, other sports can feed off the attention that hockey’s starting to receive and maybe, only maybe, the majority of the students can decide to put studying and clubs on hold for a couple hours to come support the Griffs on the court, or on the field and eventually, in the HARBORcenter.
Right now, it’s all speculation and hope for me as a student and a writer at Canisius, but things are starting to look up for Canisius Athletics.