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Kane, Housley hail Buffalo as 2011 World Juniors site

by John McGourty
The announcement that Buffalo has been chosen as the site of the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Under-20 Championship (commonly referred to as the World Juniors) was hailed by two players who figure prominently in the city's hockey history.

Patrick Kane grew up in Buffalo, where he started to learn the skills that made him the first pick of the 2007 Entry Draft. The Chicago Blackhawks' second-year center is the reigning Calder Memorial Trophy winner as the 2008 NHL rookie of the year.

"I think it's great for Buffalo," said Kane. "There's a lot of hockey fans in Buffalo and it's right across the border from Canada. It will attract a lot of fans from the Canadian side. That's where hockey comes from, Canada, so there will be a lot of fans there for the World Juniors. It should be a good spot.

"Buffalo is a hockey city and look how well the Sabres have done the last 5 years. It's going to a great opportunity for people there to go out and see the future stars of the NHL. It's going to be rooting for the 'home team,' the Americans. Buffalo already loves hockey and this will raise the enthusiasm even more. Hopefully, it will get even more American kids to want to play hockey. This is where people can get a first look at a young foreign player with (Alex) Ovechkin or (Sidney) Crosby-like talent. Or maybe another young American kid. There's nothing better than watching young talent develop.

"I know Buffalo is excited and they'll do the best job they can with it."

Told St. Paul, Minn., was the runner-up, Phil Housley was disappointed for his hometown but excited for the city where he came to NHL prominence. Housley played the first 8 seasons of his 21-season NHL career for the Buffalo Sabres.

"That's a bummer for St. Paul, but Buffalo is a great place for hockey," Housley said. "The fans historically have enthusiastically supported the Sabres. It's a great sports city from the fans' standpoint. They love the Sabres and they love their football team, the Buffalo Bills."

The 10-nation tournament features the world's best players under 20 years of age, and is a 31-game event that takes place over the course of 10 days.  It will be held at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, a beautiful facility on the Lake Erie waterfront which opened in 1996. Dwyer Arena on the campus of Niagara University will serve as the secondary facility for the event.

"There will be access to a lot of other rinks in the area," Housley said, "and a lot of followers coming from Canada. I grew up in the old Memorial Auditorium, but Buffalo was due for a new building to keep up with the times. They produced a great building at the HSBC Arena. It's got everything.

"Buffalo will be well prepared for a great event like this and the city is a great place to play hockey. I expect the fans will welcome the event with open arms. It's great to see the tournament back in the United States."

Kane led Team USA to the bronze medal at the 2007 World Juniors, held in Mora and Leksand, Sweden. He tied for the goal-scoring lead with 5, was second on Team USA with 9 points and was named to the All-Star Team.

Housley was only 18 and a student at South St. Paul High School when he played for Team USA, which finished sixth at the 1982 World Juniors, which was held in several Minnesota cities and featured some early games played in Ontario and Manitoba.

"It was a great measuring stick to find out where you were as an individual," he said. Housley later played in that year's World Championship, against the world's best older players, and that fall became the first player to go directly from an American high school to the NHL. "It's a great honor to represent your country and wear its jersey. You see where you measure up in the world in a competitive nature."

The World Juniors also provides a broadening experience for the world's best young players, exposing them to more than just hockey.

"I played for Team USA in Pardubice, the Czech Republic in 2002," said Minnesota Wild defenseman Erik Reitz, a Michigan native. "We had Ryan Whitney, Keith Ballard, Mike Komisarek, Chris Higgins and R.J. Umberger. We placed fifth. We lost the game we had to win against Russia and then we lost to Finland.

"It was different going over there. I had never been to Europe before. Our hotel beds were like a hostel, low to the ground. It's a different way of living. The food was all different and we had to get used to that. Of course, there was long travel to get there. The fans were really great. They really supported the event. It was a different atmosphere and we played on the Olympic-sized ice surface.

"I think it will be great to have the fans on our side. The American players will feel more at home and they'll feel better on the ice, knowing they have the support of the people in the stands, instead of being an 18-hour flight from home."

David H. Jensen, a Minneapolis native, played in the 1981 World Juniors in Fussen, West Germany, and on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Neither of those countries exists anymore. Since then, Germany was peacefully re-united and Yugoslavia ripped asunder by civil war.

Jensen noted that ice hockey, inadvertently perhaps, gave him an understanding of the latter situation that a lot of Americans didn't have.

"Buffalo is a hockey city and look how well the Sabres have done the last 5 years. It's going to a great opportunity for people there to go out and see the future stars of the NHL. It's going to be rooting for the 'home team,' the Americans" -- Patrick Kane
"Sarajevo was such a beautiful city and the people were wonderful and very welcoming to us," Jensen said. "It was hard to believe what happened there and less than a decade later. Because we went there and had an understanding and an appreciation for the city and its people, it was heartbreaking to read every day about what went on there.

"I would not have had that understanding if I didn't have the opportunity that USA Hockey provided me."

Reitz's comment about being exposed to different foods led to an obvious question to ask Kane. Can we expect the players in the 2001 World Juniors to be breathing fire as they compete?

"Those Buffalo wings, man," Kane laughed. "I had a lot of them this summer. I can never eat too many of them. They're awesome. And it's not just wings; they've got the Buffalo name attached to them."

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