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Buffalo is named host of 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

It was made official Friday afternoon: the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-20 World Championship, better known as the World Junior Championship, is returning to Buffalo.

Officials from USA Hockey and the Buffalo Sabres led a news conference at Ralph Wilson Stadium to confirm the news that the international hockey tournament will be held here beginning late December 2017 and continuing through early January 2018. It's the second time Buffalo will host the event. The city also hosted the 2011 World Junior Championship.

"We do not do this out of any type of reach for power. We do this because we love the game and we want to help players around the world get better," said Sabres and Bills owner Terry Pegula. 

The news conference was hosted at Ralph Wilson Stadium so that officials could confirm that the event will include an outdoor game to be played there. That's nothing new to the football venue, which also hosted the National Hockey League's Winter Classic on New Year's Day 2008. It's a first for the World Junior Championship, though, and USA Hockey officials admit they're hoping to use it to stage one of junior hockey's greatest rivalries: USA versus Canada.

Officials said they were hoping to play that game some time between December 27 and 29, though it's too soon to tell if everything will fall into place. But they can make special arrangements if necessary.

"The IIHF allows some flexibility if the results of the 2017 tournament are such that we're not in the same pool, so that a country can be moved," said USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean. "Those early discussions on a what-if basis have happened."

What will also be new to Buffalo the second time is HarborCenter. The mixed-use facility, which includes a hotel, restaurants and shops and ice rinks, will be used to host some of the games on the tournament schedule (in the previous tournament, secondary games were played at Niagara University's Dwyer Arena). There will be other new attractions as well to keep visiting fans, especially Canadians, staying in Buffalo for a lengthy period of time. That didn't necessarily happen with Canadian fans in 2011, who came to the games, then went home for the night only to return the next time their team was in action.

Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, says research indicates they'll be more likely to stay this time.

"One of the programs we had this last year through VBN was our Canadian Marketing Initiative," he said. "We had 25,000 visitor profiles that were coming to our destination. That generated 75,000 room nights that left behind $28 million."

Russ Brandon, president of the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills, promised those in attendance that Buffalo will host a world class event.

"When you have the staffs and the synergies, the efficiencies of great people that work within our organization, both at the Buffalo Sabres and the Buffalo Bills and at Pegula Sports and Entertainment, this event will be the definition of 'One Buffalo'," Brandon said.

What the Sabres are not preparing to host again soon, officials told reporters, is another NHL Winter Classic. Some had wondered leading up to Friday's news conference whether that might be discussed. 

Brandon told the audience that Sabres officials are focusing on the World Juniors.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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