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HarborCenter, designed to be a magnet for hockey tournaments and tourists, is already doing its job despite being months away from completion.
The Buffalo Sabres' two-rink complex will host a pair of world championships in 2015, USA Hockey announced Wednesday. The women's under-18 world championship will be held Jan. 4-12, and the sled hockey world championship will follow April 24 to May 2. Both tournaments will feature eight teams from around the globe.
"We're going to christen our first year of operations at HarborCenter with not one but two world championships," John Koelmel, president of HarborCenter, said during a news conference in First Niagara Center. "We're creating a unique destination for the game of hockey."
Koelmel said the organization has not yet conducted economic impact studies, but he expects the influx of money into the area to be "meaningful."
"You're looking at three-plus weeks of activity, 16 teams in total - players, coaches, entourage, their fans," Koelmel said. "We're excited about the impact it's going to provide."
The women's tournament, conducted by the International Ice Hockey Federation, will be contested for the eighth time. The annual tournament was held this year in Budapest, Hungary. The United States, Canada, Czech Republic, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Japan and Switzerland will compete for gold.
"We had nine players on our Olympic roster this time around who have played in the under-18 world championships, so it makes a big impact," said Reagan Carey, USA Hockey's director of women's hockey. "It gives exposure not only to our U.S. athletes, but internationally it grows the game significantly."
The sled hockey tournament, run by the International Paralympic Committee, will also be held for the eighth time. It's coming to Buffalo and the United States because the original host country recently withdrew.
"Given what we expected would be a warm reception from the Sabres and the HarborCenter and this city, and the fact that we were coming off the exhilaration of a second consecutive Paralympic Games gold medal, we said, 'Let's do it in America,' " said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. "It's fun being back in Buffalo with greater and greater frequency, and the reason we do that is because of the faith and trust we have with the people involved with the Buffalo Sabres and the HarborCenter. This is a great, great hockey market."
Western New York natives Adam Page and Paul Schaus earned gold medals this year at the Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The other nations competing at the worlds will be Canada, Russia, Czech Republic, Norway, Italy, Germany and Japan. USA Hockey will hold a tryout camp in July in Northtown Center at Amherst.
"We're overwhelmed with the number of people that want to try this sport now," said U.S. coach Jeff Sauer. "It's just blossomed into an amazing selling point for us in terms of the disabled community and getting an opportunity to play."
The dual announcement strengthened the bond between the Sabres and USA Hockey. The sides came together in 2011 with the world junior championship, and Buffalo will host the All-American Prospects Game during the next two years. USA Hockey will begin accepting bids for the 2018 world juniors early next year.
"We're champing at the bit to have conversations about that," Sabres President Ted Black said.
The U.S. entourage took a tour of HarborCenter prior to the news conference. The group was impressed by the construction progress at the facility, including the arched wooden ceiling that is being built over the feature rink. HarborCenter is expected to open in October.
"Buffalo is a world-class city, and we thank USA Hockey for bringing two world championships to HaborCenter and the City of Buffalo," Mayor Byron W. Brown said. "When these world championships are in our community, we will certainly roll out that legendary Buffalo and Western New York hospitality to the athletes, their families, their fans."