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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres
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For the last four months, nearly 300 workers from 15 different companies worked feverishly to build the Sabres new locker room facilities at First Niagara Center. Frank Cravotta, the team’s Director of Creative Services, was one of the main cogs in the projects. He sat down with Kevin Snow from today to discuss some of the highlights of the project, along with the challenges they faced along the way.

When did the design process begin?
About three weeks after the Pegula’s purchased the team is when we started. Stan Makowski (VP of Arena Operations) and I had a meeting with Kim, then later with Terry. A lot of their experiences come from the new arena in Pittsburgh, and that place is a palace. Their locker room is exceptional. Ours was 15 years old. One of the first things they wanted to do was quickly come in and put a logo on the floor, just to say ‘hey we’re here and we are thinking about making things better.’ But it was really at that point, when the logo was in the floor, that Stan and I were already flying around to a lot of the other clubs to do research, meeting with the architects to try and get as much information as we could for our project. 

Did you have some ideas in your head already?
Everyone talks about Vancouver as the benchmark. But what I found in my travel was that the Montreal Canadiens’ practice facility was clearly the best that I saw; just the way that it was done proportionately. Pittsburgh is just huge, and we knew that we didn’t have that kind of space to work with. But in Montreal the layout worked really well, the spaces weren’t overly large. The flow from coaching to training to equipment to the player lounge – it all worked really well. Stylistically Vancouver was the nicest. And they had a similar challenge to us because they re-did their room in an existing building. We took a little of all the places we saw, and brought it all back here to start working with our architects.

Did you encounter any major construction issues?
I think we knew what we were in for. The challenge with these projects has always been time. Vancouver had well over a year to do it; Pittsburgh had three years, and they were building from scratch. Kim and Terry asked if we could do this. We asked our people, they said it would be tight. Even though it looks done now, we are still tweaking it. The issue was always time working against us, trying to make something that was world class and innovative in just five months.

How much input did players and management have?
I met with several players towards the end of last season and on locker cleanout day. I had an opportunity to present my ideas to Terry, Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville and Nathan Gerbe. Ryan was very excited about the project and the direction it had taken. We’d already had a few different floor plans at that time, so everybody wanted to take a peek at what we wanted to do. We also got a lot of input from Darcy (Regier) and Lindy (Ruff) because they were around all summer. We did our best to get them involved early. Then we worked with the coaching and equipment staffs. The players had input, but those are the guys who will be working in the spaces and they had the most direct input. There was a lot of back and forth throughout summer.

Did you go through several versions of the layout?
Absolutely. For example, in the early stages working with Cannon Design (of Grand Island, NY), I would guess that we went through dozens of different ways of how the team would get to the ice from the locker room. When we got to something that was close to our final plan, we knew that we were creating a locker room facility that would have a dynamic entrance to the ice where we were able to showcase the history of the team.

Who came up with the historical concept for the entrance?
That was my idea. My background is in exhibit design so I’ve done things like this in the past. In working with Cannon, the story I was trying to tell is that when the players are in the locker room, there are no ties to the past. That’s their room, and they feel like they own it. Then as they left the room, they’d walk through the history of the franchise. It takes them through time and shows them where they are coming from. But there are also empty areas for future recognition. This way they can experience the past, but also realize that there’s room for them on that wall in the future.

Whose idea was the fireplace in the lounge?
That idea came from Cannon. Kim liked it when she first saw it, and I loved it. The idea is that the lounge is a home away from home. A lot of these guys have fireplaces in their own homes. When they are sitting around talking and relaxing with each other, you want to make them feel as comfortable at the rink as they are at home. They also have an Xbox back there with other homey items, so it’s just a way to fill out the room and make it unique at the same time. It was the architect’s choice, but something that the team really liked.

You’ve done all this in four months – how long should it have taken?
Probably about a year. Vancouver took over a year. But for me personally, this was the greatest professional experience I’ve ever had. To work closely with Lindy, Darcy, the players, the ownership to creatively tell stories – you can’t beat it. It’s been a lot of weekends and late nights. Even though I’ve been telling a lot of the story, Stan (Makowski) has been there with me from the beginning. If we only had three and half months to do it, we’d still get it done. It’s been truly amazing, and the reaction to everything has been overwhelming and rewarding at the same time. It’s really been worth it.

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