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HarborCenter enjoys solid opening season with success of its partners

When Nik Fattey went to the high school hockey state tournament in Minnesota last week he didn't have to introduce HarborCenter. Everyone already knew all about it.

It's only been four months since the facility opened but thanks to the success of Canisius, the Jr. Sabres and Erie Community College along with glowing marks from USA Hockey, HarborCenter has already caught the attention of the national hockey community.

"The profile has definitely increased," said Fattey, the vice president and director of hockey at HarborCenter. "Part of that comes from the success of our partners. Canisius finished second in Atlantic Hockey. The Jr. Sabres had a tough playoff series. ECC won a national title. All of that helps raise the profile."

The best compliments Fattey has received include the condition of the ice and the well-maintained locker rooms.

"And I still get a thrill when I see teams come in here for the first time, step off the elevator and look at the ceiling," Fattey said.

HarborCenter discussed its first season with Canisius hockey Thursday afternoon on the eve of the first collegiate postseason series in the building.

The Golden Giffins host Sacred Heart in a best-of-three series in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals. The games are at 7:35 p.m. Friday and Saturday with Sunday's game, if necessary, at 5:05.

HarborCenter is running ticket promotions in conjunction with Canisius, for the weekend games. The HarborCenter Playoff Happy Hour ($12) will be on the seventh floor of the rink. Catered by (716) Food and Sport, fans get a game ticket, free appetizers and 2-for-1 drink specials. The Canisius Hockey Fan Pack ($39.99) includes four game tickets, four hot dogs, four soft drinks, a bucket of popcorn and two HarborCenter pucks.

The promotions are part of the marketing plan, something that HarborCenter and Canisius will continue to work on for next season.

Canisius averaged 1,160 fans during the regular season at HarborCenter. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Canisius averaged 1,160 fans during the regular season at HarborCenter. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

John Koelmel, president of HarborCenter, said putting "cheeks in seats" is a priority and while HarborCenter looks to engage the community they look to Canisius to engage its student body.

"My daughter goes to Cornell and over the years I've had a chance to attend games there," Koelmel said. "The atmosphere they have there is terrific with the community and the students and the pep band and the energy in the building. It's always about an 80-20 split -- 80 percent community, 20 percent students -- but as we work to bring in the community Canisius needs to work to bring in students."

The success of the teams which call HarborCenter home and the success of HarborCenter the hockey destination are intricately tied together. And while Canisius and HarborCenter have already met to discuss Year 1 and ways to improve for Year 2, the overall view is positive, Koelmel said.

Canisius is enjoying its best attendance in program history. In  16 HarborCenter dates, the Griffs are averaging 1,160 fans a game. That number is certainly hurt by this winter's weather, including the Jan. 9 Kids' Day Game against Holy Cross. Schools were closed across the region turning what would have been close to a 2,000-sellout to an official crowd of 395.

Last year at Buffalo State the Griffs averaged 733 fans. Their previous best attendance season was 2008-09 when they drew 842 per game at Buffalo State.


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