Thursday was a great day for hockey at KeyBank Center, so the NCAA said, “Let’s play two.”
The college hockey men’s Frozen Four teams met in the arena doubleheader, with the semifinal round setting up Saturday evening’s championship game.
With guests in town, following their teams from Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Providence and the University of Massachusetts, our city did its best to provide hockey weather Thursday, with flakes of snow and chilly winds off the lake. Temperatures will be in the mid-60s here Friday, while Duluth will be under siege from the blizzard that’s slamming the Midwest.
The Frozen Four doesn’t draw the same crowds as basketball’s NCAA Tournament, which last visited Buffalo in 2017. But basketball also draws more casual fans, and we wouldn’t be shocked if there was some friendly gambling involved. College hockey fandom is more laser-focused on the sport it loves, as fans from throughout Western New York and Southern Ontario will attest. And there will be thousands on hand at the arena.
ESPN analyst John Buccigross told The News’ Alan Pergament that he compares college hockey to punk rock: “It is a small audience, but it is a passionate and intimate audience and they are really into it.”
Visit Buffalo Niagara estimates the three-day event will put as much as $3.9 million into our economy, much of it to bars, restaurants, hotels and taxi and ride-hailing companies.
The Frozen Four was last here in 2003. A young Thomas Vanek, who later became a star for the Buffalo Sabres, led Minnesota to the NCAA championship that year. He was a freshman. Future Sabre Matt Moulson also played it, for Cornell.
Bill Maher, director of athletics at Canisius College and an organizer of the local Frozen Four effort, told The News this week that the Frozen Four returned here “because of the way our community supports this event.”
Sabres star Jack Eichel was a standout in the 2015 Frozen Four, scoring two goals with one assist in Boston University’s semifinal win over North Dakota at TD Garden in Boston. His Terriers lost to Providence in the championship game, and two months later, Eichel was drafted by the Sabres.
Some of the players here this week for the Frozen Four will go on to play in the NHL, including some Sabres prospects. Saturday night’s game will air on ESPN2, so if you don’t want to spring for a ticket, turn on your TV to see what the excitement is all about.