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Centennial Fan Arena

Draft prospects, fans enjoy Centennial Fan Arena at Combine

Centers Gabriel Vilardi, Nico Hischier among those to visit mobile museum

by Joe Yerdon / Correspondent

Combine Fan Arena recap

Fans and prospects have fun at the Combine Fan Arena

Passionate hockey fans and this year's top prospects have some fun at the Combine Fan Arena, playing games and getting autographs signed

  • 00:30 •

BUFFALO -- The NHL Centennial Fan Arena's stop outside KeyBank Center helped show the top prospects of the 2017 NHL Draft how much Buffalo loves hockey.

The 53-foot truck, filled with pieces of hockey history, is here as part of the NHL Scouting Combine on June 2 and 3. On Friday, the top five prospects in the draft spoke with reporters inside the exhibit before a Q&A and autograph session with fans.

"It's pretty cool," said Windsor center Gabriel Vilardi, who is the No. 3 North American skater on NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. "Obviously, Buffalo is a hockey city and they love their hockey, so it was cool to see all the Buffalo jerseys and you can just walk around this week and see the jerseys; it's pretty cool."

Rick Newman of Wilson, New York, about 45 miles north of Buffalo on Lake Ontario, came to the mobile museum with son Matt. They reveled in the history, particularly the evolution of the equipment.

"Growing up, I started playing when I was 5 and now seeing what they started with sticks, skates, helmets, and stuff and to see what they wear now, how light it is compared to then, it's astonishing how much the equipment has changed," Matt Newman said.

Even though the Newmans are lifelong hockey fans, they were able to learn something about the NHL by way of the interactive touch screens that illustrated the origins of NHL awards, as well as team histories.

"I didn't know half the teams," Rick Newman said. "I knew the California Seals, I knew the Cleveland Barons, I didn't know about the other teams. I knew about the Colorado Rockies and that, but it was pretty cool to see the old teams. I didn't know St. Louis had the Eagles, of all teams."

When the Buffalo Sabres entered the League in 1970-71, it gave Rick Newman a new team to root for and a chance to be a season-ticket holder at Memorial Auditorium. He passed that passion down to Matt, who coaches hockey in San Diego.

"The Sabres have a great history since the '70s," Rick said. "Before that, I was a New York Rangers fan. Oh, that was terrible, but then the Sabres came along."

Buffalo native Kathy Olejniczak and daughter Andrea came to see the Stanley Cup. The Sabres have made the Stanley Cup Final twice in their history but never have won the championship.

"I would just like to see it," Andrea Olejniczak said. "Yeah, I mean, the Sabres are my favorite."

"We're going to get it one year," her mother said.

"I hope," Andrea said.

It's that hope for the future, as well as the love of hockey and the history of the game, that left the biggest impression on the draft prospects.

"It was amazing. It was a great experience," said Halifax center Nico Hischier, the No. 2-ranked North American skater behind Brandon's Nolan Patrick. "It was the first time I was ever at something like this, so it was great. … It was awesome. I think they did a great job, and it was fun."

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