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USA Hockey feels right at home during World Juniors site visit

Jim Johannson joked that Buffalo was becoming a second home.

The assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey has been in the 716 quite a bit over the last year.

Last September was the All-American Prospects Game (returning to First Niagara Center on Thursday) while last season HarborCenter 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.

So the powers that be are familiar with hockey in Western New York and the advantages of the community and facilities which made the visit easier, although not the decision.

Buffalo is up against Pittsburgh and St. Louis to host the 2018 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. The region hosted the event in 2011 and received good marks. Hosting the other championships last season also helped upgrade Buffalo's status.

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 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 s a major factor for us in our decision making because we want to have the full engagement of those communities."

Pageantry was  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. As you well know we were at the Niagara facility for 2011 with a little more seating capacity. But the reality of it is, you want to put it in a place where the venue promotes the pageantry of the games. I think the HarborCenter just by proof of the Women’s U18 and the sleds offers that opportunity. It's an excellent facility in that regards and it's very high on our list."

Buffalo was the first official site visit by USA Hockey. They plan to visit St. Louis and Pittsburgh in November and make a final announcement by the end of the year.

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