"I think that what we will see going forward is that to the extent we can continue to have success as a Sabres organization and team, that grows hockey players. Kids choose to play hockey as opposed to some other sports." -- Sabres' GM Darcy Regier
USA Hockey believes the answer to that question is a resounding "yes," judging by Monday afternoon's announcement that Buffalo will host the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship, a tournament that brings the best under-20 talent from the 10 best hockey-playing nations to one place.
Buffalo beat out two other finalists -- previous hosts St. Paul, Minn., and Grand Forks, N.D. -- to become the fifth American city to host the prestigious tournament. And USA Hockey believes Buffalo could be the best of those hosts because of the strong support of the NHL's Sabres and the vibrant youth hockey community. It's a community that has played a huge part in the development of Chicago's Kane, the reigning Calder Trophy winner, and Ottawa's Foligno.
"We know that this will be the most successful World Junior Championship ever held in the United States," said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. "We believe that this event has the potential of being the best World Junior Championship ever held."
According to Ogrean, optimism is high about 2011 because Buffalo has presented one of the most unified bids in the history of the process. Buffalo owner Tom Golisano is intimately involved with the bid, providing the necessary financial backing. The amateur hockey community also is firmly on board.
"This is a city with a tremendous hockey tradition and a great sports tradition," Ogrean said, citing the Sabres' appearance in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final against Dallas, the city's hosting of the 2003 Frozen Four and last year's Winter Classic, an NHL regular-season game between the Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins that drew more than 70,000 fans to Rich Stadium, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Ogrean called that event "one of the most successful hockey events held in the entire world."
Now, the Sabres are ready to add to that resume with the granting of the 2011 World Junior Championship.
"Just like the Winter Classic, this is an opportunity to showcase the sport and showcase the community here," Golisano said.
Golisano bought into the World Junior Championship bid at the urging of Larry Quinn, the managing partner and minority owner of the Sabres, who was the driving force behind Buffalo's bid.
"It wasn't that hard of a sell," Golisano told NHL.com. "I asked Larry if he and the staff wanted to do this and I asked him if this was good for hockey and he said yes. That was it."
And there is no doubt the World Junior Championship will be good for Buffalo's hockey community. Many of the people involved in bringing the WJC to this city say it will make an already strong regional amateur program even stronger.
"It goes to a long-term investment in the community," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier told NHL.com. "It goes to an investment in hockey in this area. Without that, the Winter Classic would not have taken place. Without that, the World Junior tournament would not take place. Tom (Golisano) has made a guarantee, a guarantee to the hockey world, that Buffalo is both worthy and can support not only the Winter Classic, but the World Junior tournament. That's something they get involved in because they believe in the community.
"They go out on a limb and get in front of it. It just goes back to a belief in this community."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman believes the League's member teams should be heavily invested in grass-roots hockey initiatives.
"It is Tom's faith in this city, his belief that it is important to have a professional sports team in this city, that is the reason we are here today," Bettman said. "On behalf of the NHL, we are thrilled to see one of our teams make such an important commitment to grass-roots hockey."
It is not an altruistic commitment, however, on behalf of Golisano or the Sabres organization. They believe there will be payouts on several levels, including the development of the game's future stars. Monday afternoon, there were close to 20 kids from the Amherst Youth Hockey organization on hand for the press conference at HSBC Arena. For the hockey executives there, it isn't a stretch to believe that some of those youngsters will watch from the stands in 2011 and go on to star in the tournament just a few years later.
"I think that what we will see going forward is that to the extent we can continue to have success as a Sabres organization and team, that grows hockey players," Regier said. "Kids choose to play hockey as opposed to some other sports. You see any time USA Hockey has success, it spurs on the growth of hockey and it keeps the sport growing and I think that is a critical aspect of things like the World Junior tournament.
"I think that you will see the World Juniors come here and you will see kids that watch that, who are playing hockey, aspire to become one of those players and aspire to play at that level. I really believe that. I believe that's how it works and I believe that will happen. There's an absolute direct correlation between events like the World Junior tournament and kids playing hockey at an elite level."
So, get ready Buffalo. The hockey world is coming to town, with the 2011 World Junior Championship rightfully ready to put the region's growing hockey reputation in the sport's brightest spotlight.
Monday, Buffalo proved once again it will be up to the challenge.