It has been nearly five months since The Griffin first reported in July that the Canisius athletic department was having discussions with the Buffalo Sabres about potentially partnering to build an ice rink on campus. As a full semester goes by with no new developments in the talks, The Griffin looks for answers.
Athletic Director Bill Maher sits at a table in his office. He’s slightly on edge, but well within reasonable expectations of someone discussing a potential project he previously said would cost over $20 million.
“There’s not much to report there,” he says. “The Sabres continue to look at a number of options. We’ve continued to have discussions with them, but at this time, there’s really been no change and no meetings with the Sabres organization.”
The sides last met early in the fall and haven’t talked since. There have been several meetings since last spring but discussions seem to be cooling off.
“I’d love to be able to make an announcement and tell you [things have changed], but they really haven’t,” Maher said.
“I don’t think we’re any closer, I don’t think we’re any further apart.”
Though Sabres owner Terry Pegula has not been involved in any negotiations, he caused quite a stir last week when he and his wife Kim donated $12 million for athletic facilities to Houghton College (Kim’s alma mater). Maher thought it was a generous gift but said he isn’t concerned the owner of a business he is working with just gave eight figures to a different college for a similar project.
“I don’t look at it that way,” he said.
The discussions are yet to reach a point where the sides are hammering out individual issues — right now, they’re still talking “opportunities.” Maher remains optimistic that Canisius College will someday house its own rink, but right now, it’s a waiting game.
“When there’s the next opportunity to talk, they’ll come to us and we’ll certainly have that dialogue,” Maher said. “I don’t think there’s anything more we can do at this point in time. We can continue to make ourselves available … and from there, we’ll see.”
The ball may be in the Sabres’ court, but they aren’t talking. A team spokesperson declined to give any additional information this week. There have been discussions, but nothing new has happened. A practice facility is something the Sabres would like to have, but it’s just another item on the laundry list of improvements the team would like to make.
Without a partnership with the Sabres, it’s unlikely the school would get a rink in the near future, Maher said, a reminder that Science Hall is the school’s top priority.
C-Block Vice President James Millard was excited when he first read about the possibility of Canisius getting its own rink, but he isn’t upset that nothing has developed over the course of the semester. However, he hopes talks don’t die out completely.
“I think it would be good for the school to have our own rink on campus for two reasons,” Millard said. “One, fan attendance would skyrocket. Driving 5-10 minutes to Buff State may not seem like a big deal, [but] people would walk over just for the fun.”
Secondly, and more importantly: “You would attract a much larger audience when scouting. I ate lunch with head coach Dave Smith a couple weeks ago and he said that’s one of the main reasons people turn Canisius down when they’re looking at schools, because we don’t have our own rink.”
Until the ice freezes inside a new arena, the Griffs will continue to use Buffalo State for every practice and every home game, and administration will continue handing out money from its athletic budget to another college. Someday, local schools and youth organizations may dream of playing in the city’s only Division I facility, but until then, Canisius will travel to play its home games at D-III Buff State, home of the Bengals.
Getting a rink on campus was thought to be something Canisius had to achieve if it were to change conferences. The Griffs may not have left Atlantic Hockey even with a rink, but without one, the team will not move conferences.
“Not right now, for sure,” Maher said. “Atlantic Hockey has always been a good option for us … in the end [moving] wasn’t a better option that what Atlantic Hockey provides us right now.
“There were discussions in the summer; those discussions have closed. We’re a member of Atlantic Hockey and that’s where things stand.”