Sabres and Canisius ready to make partnership official

After two years of on-and-off discussions, the Buffalo Sabres and Canisius College are finally ready to announce a partnership that will give the Canisius hockey team a new home rink.

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Canisius released details today for a Tuesday morning press conference at the First Niagara Center. The Griffs are expected to play their home games across the street at the HarborCenter when the rink opens in 2014.

UPDATE: As expected, it was made official at the press conference that Canisius will play games at the HarborCenter. The Griffs will have their own 1,300-square foot, state-of-the-art locker room and a separate athletic training area.

The Sabres and Canisius have been considering a partnership since at least the summer of 2011, when the sides discussed the possibility of building a two-rink complex on the Canisius campus that would double as a Sabres practice facility.

That option never panned out, but Canisius was on the Sabres’ mind throughout the HarborCenter bidding process. Initial proposals said the Sabres’ new rink would be used as a practice facility for the team as well as a “home base for some of the area’s collegiate hockey teams.” Canisius confirmed in June 2012 that it was one of those teams.

“Our hope, and I know their hope, is that we would be an anchor tenant for them down there,” Canisius athletic director Bill Maher said of the HarborCenter last August. “That would mean that our Division I hockey program would have a locker room down there and would practice down there and we would have our competition down there.”

Canisius, the reigning Atlantic Hockey champion, currently plays out of Division III Buffalo State’s ice rink. The 2013-14 season is expected to be Canisius’ last one playing at the orange-and-black facility. Buff State officials said last August that Canisius rents ice and locker room space from them on a year-to-year basis and is not locked into a contract.

Sabres-Canisius partnership timeline


July 2011
: Canisius student newspaper The Griffin reports that the school is in talks with the Sabres to build a rink on campus. The story is picked up by WGRZ, WIVB, USCHO, the Bowling Green Sentinel-TribuneBuffalo Rising and WGR (link no longer active).

“We have had discussions with the Buffalo Sabres front office concerning a practice site for the Sabres on the Canisius campus, and we are very excited about the possibility of developing a partnership,” Maher said in a statement at the time. “The partnership being discussed would not only benefit the Sabres and our NCAA Division I hockey program, it would also have a significant impact on amateur hockey in Western New York. Canisius College is carefully studying this opportunity with the goal of putting together a plan that benefits both organizations.”

September 2011: Canisius has a location picked out for the rink and Maher said the potential project would cost more than $20 million.

“They (the Sabres) initially came to us,” Maher said. “They were looking for some different solutions to some of their issues and they came to us about a ‘what-if’ scenario. By no means were they saying ‘Hey, we want to build something with you,’ but it was a, ‘Hey, if you’re talking about building a facility in the future at some point and we’re talking about building a facility in the future at some point, why don’t we talk about what we can do together.’ And that’s really where we are.”

December 2011: On-campus rink talks stall. “There’s not much to report there,” Maher said. The Sabres continue to decline comment.

“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,” student fan group vice president James Millard said.

June 2012: Webster Block talk heats up. The Sabres mention collegiate teams and a Canisius official said that’s “definitely still us.” ECC is also mentioned as a potential tenant.

August 2012: Maher confirms the sides are still planning to partner.

“Our hope, and I know their hope, is that we would be an anchor tenant for them down there,” he said. “That would mean that our Division I hockey program would have a locker room down there and would practice down there and we would have our competition down there.”

April 2013: The Sabres break ground on HarborCenter.

July 2013: The press conference is scheduled. HarborCenter President John Koelmel will represent the Sabres, while Canisius President John Hurley, head coach Dave Smith and Maher will represent the college.

September 2014: The rink is expected to open.

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