About this time last year, Jack Eichel was in Buffalo to kick off his hockey season. He was suiting up for the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game before taking the ice with Boston University for his first, and only, season as a collegiate hockey player.
It’s September and Eichel is once again kicking off his hockey season in Buffalo, this time as the No. 2 pick in the NHL Draft as a member of the Sabres.
He had a goal and an assist in his professional debut with the Sabres in a 3-2 preseason win at Minnesota on Monday night.
Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma said Eichel will not play Wednesday when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in their preseason home opener at First Niagara Center. In fact with perhaps one or two exceptions, Bylsma said he will use different players for Wednesday’s game.
Eichel did not skate Tuesday but spoke with the media as part of a USA Hockey press conference to discuss the official site visit for Buffalo’s bid to host 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship along with promoting Thursday’s All-American Prospects Game.
Eichel was named Most Outstanding Player in the game held last year at First Niagara Center.
“Last year for me personally, it was unbelievable,” Eichel said. “The event was a great kick off to my season with college just starting at the beginning of October. It was a good way to begin my year, get some exposure and it’s a great event. Obviously I have a lot of great things to say about Buffalo and that was probably my first time visiting here.
“I think a lot of guys want to come in here and want to make an impression on all the scouts and personnel from the NHL that’s going to be here. I think it’s important for them to come in and just put their best foot forward and work hard and do whatever they do. That’s what I tried to do last year and I was lucky to have a good game.”
The CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects will be at 7 p.m. Thursday in First Niagara Center. The game will feature 42 of the top American-born prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft. Former NHL players Derek Plante and Jeremy Roenick will coach the teams. The game will be broadcast on the NHL Network.
Tickets for the event range from $7 to $10 and are available online through Tickets.com, the Buffalo Sabres website and at the First Niagara Center box office.
USA Hockey also conducted its official site review of Buffalo, one of three finalists to host the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships.
USA Hockey is very familiar with Buffalo as the city hosted the All-American Prospects Game for two years and last season hosted the IIHF Women’s U18 World Championships and the IPC Sledge Hockey World Championships. Incidentally both of those resulted in gold for Team USA.
Buffalo is up against Pittsburgh and St. Louis, with USA Hockey planning to make a decision before the end of the year. Buffalo hosted the event in 2011 and received good marks, but there is also a desire by USA Hockey to move the event to other locations to elevate the game across the country. That becomes a delicate balance.
“Certainly we’ve had a long-term relationship with Buffalo with all the events we’ve brought here … the great success here obviously lends us to understand the experiences we’ve had here,” said Mike Bertsch, the assistant executive director for marketing, communications and events for USA Hockey. “Yet at the same time the other parties that are finalists for this event also have great local organizations with great facilities and to spread it around creates a challenge for us to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the event.
“The important thing for us is the pageantry of the event and the presentation of the event in the community, not just in the venue but in the community. That’s a major factor for us in our decision making because we want to have the full engagement of those communities.”
Pageantry was a word Bertsch used when discussing HarborCenter. In 2011 when Buffalo hosted, Dwyer Arena at Niagara University was the secondary site. Although Dwyer holds a few hundred more fans, the feel of HarborCenter along with being part of the First Niagara Center complex, makes not just a workable venue but an attractive one.
When HarborCenter was under construction “one of our conversations was could it adequately provide the seating for the secondary site for World Juniors in the future,” Bertsch said. “There was a little bit of concern if there was enough seating. I think the end result, with the way it was designed and set up, it’s a perfect setting for a secondary site.”