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Buffalo bid brings smiles all around

Monday, 10.27.2008 / 6:21 PM / News

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Monday's announcement by USA Hockey that Buffalo will serve as host of the 2011 World Junior Championship was met by smiles from many of the NHL players in Buffalo for that night's game between the Sabres and the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa's Nick Foligno was raised in the Buffalo area, the son of former Sabre Mike Foligno. He broke out in a huge smile when informed his hometown would be the center of the hockey universe in two years' time.

"Buffalo is a great hockey town that will enjoy having that event here," Foligno told NHL.com after the Senators' morning skate. "They'll have a supportive fan base, that's for sure.

"It's exciting for the region. It shows that there are some great programs here and they are serious about developing their kids, and you are starting to see that with some of the guys that are making it out of the Buffalo area."

Foligno is one of the players that made it out of Buffalo. Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, the first pick of the 2007 Entry Draft and the reigning Calder Trophy winner, also calls Buffalo home, as does Patrick Kaleta, a youngster earning playing time with the hometown Sabres.

Kaleta, like the more-famous Kane, is a product of the Buffalo youth hockey system, playing his way through the ranks before leaving for the Ontario Hockey League. Foligno also played his youth hockey in Buffalo, with the Saints, before moving to the Hershey, Pa., area when he was about 10.

"I think it is great for the city of Buffalo," Kaleta told NHL.com. "It's great for the youth programs here and it will give the city the chance to grow those programs even more."

Kaleta still has a vested interest in the development of the area's youth programs. His younger brother, Chris, plays for the Buffalo Junior Sabres in the Ontario Junior Hockey League. So Buffalo hockey is a family affair for the Kaletas.

"The Buffalo Junior Sabres are doing good this year and good players are coming out of this region, so that's good to see," Kaleta said. But you didn't have to be from the Buffalo area to greet Monday's news with a smile, it seems.

Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg has been intimately involved with the tournament, leading Canada to back-to-back gold medals in 2007 and 2008 before assuming head coaching duties with the Senators. He was more than happy Monday to discuss what the World Junior Championship means.

"To me, besides the Olympics, this is the best tournament in hockey," Hartsburg said. "It features young men that will play the game with intensity and emotion. The emotions in the tournament are second to none. It should be an exciting time for the city of Buffalo."

Ironically, Ottawa is hosting the 2009 World Junior Championship.

"It's a tournament that when I think about it being in North America -- in Ottawa this year and in Vancouver (2006) -- it was amazing throughout with all the games sold out and the excitement that accompanied the event," Hartsburg said. "I'm sure it will be the same in Buffalo."

Ottawa's high-scoring forward Dany Heatley played in two World Junior Championships before joining the NHL. He still remembers so much about those games, which are a Christmas holiday tradition throughout Canada.

He believes Buffalo has the hockey credentials to be a credible host of the tournament and help the United States continue to grow the footprint of the game at the junior level.

"When you have a major hockey event like the World Juniors in a big hockey market like Buffalo, it's going to be incredible" -- Shean Donovan

"You're always trying to grow the game in the States and Buffalo is a great hockey city," Heatley told NHL.com. "Every time we come in here, the building is jammed and the fans are loud. They love their hockey here. I'm sure that it'll be a big success."

Perhaps the biggest smile of the morning was reserved for Shean Donovan, a veteran forward with the Senators. He played in the World Junior Championship 14 years ago, playing for Team Canada when the event was hosted by Red Deer. Despite the passage of time, Donovan still remembers the tournament like it was yesterday.

"It was the most exciting hockey experience that has happened to me in my career," Donovan told NHL.com. "That year we had it in Canada, in Red Deer, and it was just incredible.

"Red Deer was awesome. Every game was sold out and they scheduled 2 games away from Red Deer for whatever reason -- one in Edmonton and one in Calgary -- and those were sold out, too. How often as an 18-year-old can you play in an NHL rink before 18,000 people? It was amazing. The fans were crazy and it was just an unbelievable experience."

Donovan can see a similar scenario playing out in Buffalo in 2011.

"When you have a major hockey event like the World Juniors in a big hockey market like Buffalo," he said, "it's going to be incredible."



 

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