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Buffalo hopes to be hockey host in '17 Rave reviews make it a possibility

Less than seven years from now, in the last few days of 2017, the World Junior Hockey Championship will return to American ice.

Will the tournament be heading back to Buffalo?

Both sides sound interested.

"Without question, Buffalo proved itself and will be in contention to host this event in the future," Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey executive director, said through spokesman Dave Fischer. "They did an exceptional job in every regard."

In the last few days of the tournament, Buffalo Sabres Managing Partner Larry Quinn turned to Ogrean and asked him where the championship would be played in 2017-18.

"It's something I'd like to talk to you about," Ogrean replied, according to Quinn.

The tournament, which ended its 11-day stay here last week, is headed to Calgary/Edmonton next year, then to Russia, Sweden and Canada the following three years before eventually returning to an undetermined U.S. city in 2017-18.

The international hockey world gave rave reviews to Buffalo's staging of the International Ice Hockey Federation's Under-20 Championship.

"Buffalo helped us establish a new standard in hosting this tournament," Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey, stated on the USA Hockey website.

And the feeling clearly was reciprocal.

"There's no question that the Buffalo Sabres and the Buffalo area want to do it again," Quinn said. "I don't know, but I'd think the chances would be good."

The final numbers are in, and it's clear that fans flocked to the World Junior Hockey Championship in near-record numbers, drinking in both the top-flight junior hockey -- and the beer flowing from HSBC Arena taps.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, working with the Sabres, sold 331,297 tickets for the 31 games in HSBC Arena and Dwyer Arena at Niagara University.

That averages out to more than 10,000 per game, and an average of more than 15,000 tickets sold for the 21 games in HSBC Arena. It also represents just over 80 percent of capacity for the 31 games.

The tournament also sold more than three million ounces of beer -- or an average of nine ounces of beer for every man, woman and child at each game.

Tournament officials estimate that roughly 70 percent of the fans came from Canada.

"This tournament was for really dyed-in-the-wool hockey fans," Quinn explained. "This is the kind of fan who goes to an unheated arena, sits in the corner and watches the game. They're probably used to drinking beer to stay warm."

The beer sales were part of a bonanza for the Sabres, the tournament host, which apparently made millions of dollars in profit. Last week, Quinn said the profit was "substantially below" a $10 million figure cited by one media source.

But when asked whether the Sabres realized a substantial profit, Quinn replied, "I hope so."

The number of tickets sold was second in World Juniors history, falling well short of the 453,282 tickets sold in Ottawa in 2008-09.

But it shattered the previous U.S. record of 193,256 in Grand Forks, N.D. and Thief River Falls, Minn. in 2004-05.

Officials from the International Ice Hockey Federation told Sabres officials they heard no complaints about the facilities or the running of the tournament.

"An elite international group like the IIHF came here, and they were just super-impressed with the tournament, how it was run, and the facility," Quinn said.

Some observers were struck by how few Americans attended the games on their home ice. And the Canada-Russia Gold Medal game drew a pro-Canada crowd estimated at about 98 or 99 percent, with roughly three-quarters wearing either a red or white Canada hockey jersey.

Another barometer of the world juniors' hold on Canadian fans: Their heart-breaking loss to Russia in the Gold Medal game drew an incredible 14.2 million Canadian viewers who watched at least some of the game on TV, the IIHF has reported.

In a country of 33 million people, that's a whopping 43 percent of the nation.

Officials hope that the tournament being here helped educate local hockey fans about junior hockey and about this tournament, which had been an unknown commodity to all but the most ardent American hockey fans.

The tournament also presumably created a new goal for some local 10-, 11- and 12-year-old hockey players, who could don USA sweaters in 2017-18.

"It creates a dream for kids," Quinn said. "I've talked to 10-year-old kids who say, 'I want to be in the world juniors.' "

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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