Buffalo took a huge step to becoming a repeat host of the IIHF World Junior Championships today, with USA Hockey announcing the city is joining Pittsburgh and St. Louis as the finalists to stage the 2018 event.
USA Hockey officials are slated to visit each of the finalist cities over the next month and a decision on the host is expected by the end of the year. Today's announcement eliminated Chicago and Tampa for consideration, and those two cities were actually considered by several observers to be Buffalo's chief competition to land the tournament.
“We look forward to this next step in our selection process,” said Mike Bertsch, assistant executive director of marketing, communications and events for USA Hockey. “It was extremely difficult to get down to three. All five of the cities we were considering made a compelling case.”
Buffalo last hosted the event in 2011, with red-clad fans of Team Canada coming to town to fill First Niagara Center -- as well as area bars and restaurants -- to the tune of an estimated $5 million economic impact.
The fans' fervor was not rewarded, however, as Canada was stunned in the gold medal game by Russia, 5-3. It was one of the greatest big-game collapses in international hockey history, as Canada had a 3-0 lead through two periods and then gave up five third-period goals to a Russian team that featured current St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko and Artemi Panarin, who has left the KHL this summer to join the Chicago Blackhawks. Current Sabres forward Marcus Foligno played for Team Canada.
Some games in that tournament were played in Dwyer Arena at Niagara University. Since then, of course, downtown Buffalo has boomed. Secondary games in 2018 would be played at HarborCenter and several new hotels and restaurants have cropped up near the arena, as has the CanalSide entertainment district.
Pittsburgh boasts the Penguins' downtown arena, Consol Energy Center, and just opened the UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex last month to house the Penguins' training facilities. It has two rinks that seat about 1,500 combined. (HarborCenter's main rink can squeeze 2,000 fans in). The Pittsburgh complex is located in the suburbs several miles from downtown.
It's likely that would be the alternate rink for Pittsburgh bid, although there has been some rumors about going as far away as Erie, Pa. The committee for the St. Louis bid includes former Blues legend Brett Hull who, of course, has a bit of a history in beating Buffalo. It will house the tournament at Scottrade Center downtown and the Family Arena, a 9,600-seat facility in St. Charles, Mo., about 25 miles away.
USA Hockey has hosted the event five times since it began in 1977, with Buffalo joining Minneapolis/St. Paul (1982), Anchorage (1989), Boston (1996) and Grand Forks, North Dakota/Thief River Falls, Minn (2005) as other American hosts.
The annual event features 10 teams of under-20 stars and traditionally starts on Dec. 26, running into early January. The 31-game schedule gets worldwide television coverage, including the NHL Network in the United States.
Last year's event, which featured Connor McDavid- and Sam Reinhart-led Canada winning the gold medal, was held in Toronto and Montreal. The 2017 tournament will also be played in those two cities, with Montreal getting its turn at the medal round. This year's tourney will be played in Helsinki, Finland.
Sabres draft picks, in fact, have scored the tournament-winning goal for two straight years. Reinhart had Canada's final tally in its 5-4 win over Russia in January in the Air Canada Centre, and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen scored in overtime to give Finland the gold medal in 2014 when the tournament was played in Malmo, Sweden.