Future NHL players will inhabit HarborCenter this weekend. No one is looking forward to it more than a couple of former Sabres.
Jay McKee and Matthew Barnaby will be back in Buffalo as their Kitchener Rangers participate in the HarborCenter OHL Showcase. Six Ontario Hockey League teams will start their exhibition schedule Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Erie Otters, Flint Firebirds, North Bay Battalion, Peterborough Petes and Windsor Spitfires will join the Rangers in Buffalo.
"I'm really excited about it," McKee, who is in his second season as Kitchener's head coach, said by phone Thursday. "I've done things like this when I was in the AHL, went to Traverse City, and I think for players and staff it's fun to get away. You get the guys together every night and they're bonding a little bit.
"Obviously, for myself and Matt Barnaby it has a bit more of a special meaning coming to Buffalo, an area that we've spent most of our adult lives in. A lot of family and friends will come out, so it adds a little more special meaning, for sure."
Barnaby is back as one of McKee's assistant coaches. They were teammates with the Sabres in the late 1990s. McKee played defense in Buffalo from 1996 to 2006, while Barnaby was a feisty forward from 1993 to 1999.
Kitchener went 36-27-5 last year and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Erie and Peterborough won their respective conferences, while Flint and Windsor also made the postseason.
The showcase will put them on their way to the 2017-18 season.
"We've only really had one practice day, and I think most teams are in the same boat," McKee said. "We're going to play a lot of young guys. We've got a bunch of guys that are fighting for different roster positions, like all teams do, and the first-year guys are trying to make an impression. I think you should see some exciting hockey."
Friday's schedule features Flint versus Windsor at 12:30 p.m., Kitchener against North Bay at 4 p.m. and Erie versus Peterborough at 7:30 p.m. The matchups Saturday are North Bay-Windsor at 12:30 p.m., Peterborough-Kitchener at 4 p.m. and Erie-Flint at 7:30 p.m. The showcases closes Sunday with Flint-North Bay at 12:30 p.m., Windsor-Peterborough at 4 p.m. and Kitchener-Erie at 7:30 p.m.
All games will be held on the main rink in HarborCenter. A three-day pass is $40, while single-day tickets are $20. They are available at Tickets.com.
In addition to McKee and Barnaby, Kitchener boasts another local product. Forward Dylan Seitz of Eden is starting his second season with the Rangers. The 18-year-old totaled eight goals and 19 points in 65 games last year.
"Dylan Seitz will be playing at least two of the games," McKee said. "We've got three games, and we're trying to spread out some ice time and involve everybody."
The showcase is being run in conjunction with the HarborCenter Cup, a tournament featuring eight under-15 AAA teams. The Buffalo Junior Sabres are the host, with the Amherst Knights, Chicago Young Americans, Detroit Belle Tire, Ohio Blue Jackets, North Jersey Avalanche, Pittsburgh Pens Elite and St. Louis Junior Blues also involved. Their schedule is available at HarborCenter.com.
“It’s always an exciting time when hockey is back, but to welcome a new season with an event of this magnitude will truly be a special experience for the players,” said Joe Birch, the OHL's senior director of hockey development and special events. “We look forward to showcasing OHL talent in Buffalo and introducing our league to the next wave of OHL Priority Selection prospects and their families.”