If you build it, they will come…it’s a line familiar to anyone who’s ever watched Field of Dreams. However it now also applies to Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula’s sparkling new HarborCenter, which today married itself to the NHL Combine through at least 2016.
Unless a new NFL stadium is soon built there, the centerpiece of downtown Buffalo’s latest Renaissance is nearly complete. Located a slapshot away from the Sabres’ First Niagara Center home, HarborCenter features a hotel, Buffalo-themed sports bar, the most unique Tim Horton’s in North America and a parking garage. Oh, and what would any new building be if it didn’t come complete with two NHL-sized ice rinks built on the 6th floor? The concept of HarborCenter was so appealing that the Canisius College Division 1 hockey program now calls it home.
However there was still a need for a showcase event to tie the ribbon onto this amazing package, and that ribbon was affixed this afternoon with the NHL Combine announcement.
In considering Terry Pegula, it’s difficult not to make a comparison to that age-old duck analogy. On the surface he’s calm, cool, collected and quiet; but unseen beneath the water he’s doing a frenzied amount of legwork to get himself and Buffalo to the ultimate destination he envisions for it. He has more plates in the air than a carnival performer, yet hasn’t dropped one yet. Nor surely does he intend to.
A few years ago Pegula, a nearly anonymous multi-billionaire, came out of nowhere to purchase the Buffalo Sabres and end all speculation that they’d be moving anywhere. He then spent millions to upgrade the First Niagara Center before moving along to spend many millions more implementing his HarborCenter.
With that project in full swing he must have gotten bored, as he then decided to take on the easy, inexpensive task of out-jumping Donald Trump, Jon Bon Jovi and others to try and buy the Buffalo Bills. If he should succeed, the Bills long-term future in Buffalo is all but assured. As likely would be a statue dedicated to Pegula; one reminiscent to what he himself built to honor the Sabres’ French Connection.
But let’s get back to the NHL Combine. No, it’s not nearly as flashy as its NFL cousin in Indianapolis, but it does ensure that every top NHL prospect will shuffle his was through Buffalo before his career even begins. And when he does, he won’t see the city that has been mocked for decades.
Instead he’ll experience an area that in just a few short years has begun climbing its way back into relevance; a reborn city by the Lake, a city near the Falls. A region with culture, big-time sports, entertainment, art and beauty. A destination; one that Buffalo hasn’t been since perhaps the early 20th Century.
Also, it certainly cannot be lost on the Sabres brass that they themselves own several high draft picks over the next two years, and as such more than a few of the top prospects landing in Buffalo for the NHL Combine will be returning to western New York to play for the home team soon after. As such, whomever they draft will already have a familiarity with the organization.
As I’m a New Englander and not a Buffalonian I cannot speak for them. However it’s hard to believe that the city is not getting at least some satisfaction out of wresting such an event away from Toronto and relocating it to Buffalo, after all the noise they’ve endured about Toronto trying to move their Bills to Canada.
Terry Pegula seems very much to be just a typical huge Buffalo sports fan, who also happens to have an atypical Mt. Everest-sized bank account. Though clearly a businessman, there’s little question that his heart belongs to this region in a huge way.
And unlike so many others in his position, he appears to not only understand that you can’t take it with you, but there’s no chance he could spend it all anyway.
What that means for fans of Buffalo and its sports teams, is that they can probably look forward to a series of encores.
And, more importantly, that their long nightmare scenario of losing both the Sabres and the Bills before falling off the map and into oblivion is not only likely over, but reversed into a dream the likes of which they probably never could have even imagined.