Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
LECOM Harborcenter 100 Washington St Buffalo, NY 14222
Year Opened: 2014 Capacity: 1,800
The Griffins Golden Home
Located just north of downtown Buffalo, Canisius College is a small, private Catholic college of approximately 3,900 students. The Canisius Golden Griffins compete in the NCAA, Division I, but struggled to find an appropriate home on campus. Without a home on campus, for many years, the Griffs played at Division III Buffalo State; a slightly embarrassing ordeal for the school.
Relief for the Griffins came in 2014 with the opening of HarborCenter. Part of the redevelopment of downtown Buffalo, HarborCenter is direct across the road from the home of the Buffalo Sabres, KeyBank Center. A larger complex, also housing a Tim Hortons, 716 Food and Sport, and the Buffalo Marriott, HarborCenter has become a busy hub, downtown.
In 2017-2018, HarborCenter, along with KeyBank Center, hosted the World Junior Hockey Championships. HarborCenter is owned by Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the same owners of the Buffalo Sabres and Bills.
Having played Division I hockey since 1980, Canisius currently plays in the Atlantic Hockey Conference.
The highlights of Canisius hockey have come from current NHL player, Cory Conacher, their 2017 Atlantic Hockey Conference regular season title, and participation in the 2013 Frozen Four tournament after winning the Atlantic Hockey Conference Tournament. The KeyBank Rink at HarborCenter has been a great move for the Griffins with an increased presence in the Buffalo area. However, a few years into their habitation at HarborCenter, a greater following was expected.
Food & Beverage 4
Being a busy facility with several different tenants, HarborCenter offers a solid array of concessions. Conveniently provided by the (716) Food and Sport, which is on the ground level, concessions are better than your average, small, NCAA hockey facility.
There are two small concessions behind the seating sections and two main concessions, one at the ice level and one behind the seating bowl. Chicken tenders, pizza ($4.50), fries, onion rings, pizza logs, popcorn ($2/$4.50), nachos, and pretzels are all available along with other grill items. However, some items that may not be expected include fruit, protein bars, peanut butter, banana sandwiches, and hummus dip. A full smoothie bar is also on hand.
The soda of choice at HarborCenter is Coca-Cola and its products ($2.50/$3). Bottled water and Tim Hortons coffee products are also available. Very surprising is the alcoholic beverage selection at HarborCenter. Labatt Blue, Blue Light, and Bud Light are the staple beers that can be found, but local brews like One Buffalo and Southern Tier IPA are also available. Wine is also available.
Located in downtown Buffalo, HarborCenter fits right into the downtown area. However, if there is one thing it does not look like is a hockey arena. The exterior of HarborCenter is very nice with a sleek modern look but truth be told it looks a little bit more like a condominium or office building than a sports venue.
With the recent World Junior Hockey Championships being hosted by KeyBank Center and HarborCenter, several displays and attractions are remaining in the Canalside area. Just across the road from HarborCenter is the bronze statue of Buffalo Sabres legend Tim Horton. There are also a few bronze bison statues across the road, which can be found in many places in the city.
Inside the HarborCenter building, fans must ascend by an elevator to the seventh floor to reach the KeyBank Rink. The home of the Golden Griffins, as well as other local teams, immediately stands out with its bright interior due to LED lighting. Fans will also immediately notice the throwback to old-school hockey venues with the curved, hardwood ceiling reminiscent of the old hockey barns.
The ice surface runs from east to west with the main concourses behind the seating area. Smart-looking grey brick gives the arena a clean and crisp look. Canisius markings are rather limited due to the arena’s multi-tenant nature, but at the west end of the arena, fans can find the 2013 Atlantic Hockey tournament championship banner along with a banner honoring First-Team All-Conference members.
The seating bowl is not huge or overly comfortable. Essentially nine rows of wooden benches require standing, but on the plus side, the sight lines are terrific. The game day experience is a decent one. The Canisius pep band, the Blue and Gold Gang gives the game the college feel and the PA announcer has lots of energy. An interesting moment occurs at the beginning where the PA announcer asks for a moment of silence and reflects fans to Canisus’ Jesuit roots and reads the Jesuit code against oppression.
Being in downtown Buffalo, there are a host of places to eat and drink before or after a Golden Griffins game. Some of the best spots to eat include Washington Square, Liberty Hound, Cobblestone Bar & Grill, Iron Works, Lagerhaus 59, and a personal favorite, Pearl Street Grill.
Across from the bronze statue of Tim Horton himself, you will of course find a large Tim Horton’s coffee shop. However, the big buzz is for (716) Food and Sport. This is a very popular spot and is being compared to the Real Sports Bar and Grill which has become so popular outside the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
HarborCenter is located right across the street from the KeyBank Center, which is home to the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL and the Buffalo Bandits of the NLL. Up the road is Coca-Cola Field, which is home to the Buffalo Bisons. The Golden Griffins play their basketball games on campus at Koessler Athletic Center which is about four miles away.
Other options, if you are in the city, would include Buffalo Bills football in Orchard Park or Buffalo Bulls football or basketball in Amherst. If you are looking for something else to do in the immediate neighborhood of HarborCenter, Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino is just up the street.
As far as accommodations go, there are several hotels in the vicinity of HarborCenter. The closest hotels are the Buffalo Marriott, located right at HarborCenter, and the equally convenient Courtyard by Marriott, right across Scott St from HarborCenter.
Since moving to KeyBank Rink @ HarborCenter, the following at Canisius hockey games was expected to increase. However, attendance has remained fairly flat for the Griffins. Usually averaging around 1,000 fans per game, Canisius attendance is near the bottom of NCAA schools in the mid-fifties.
There is not a lot of buzz in the stands from the fans and the student section, which is in section 7, is often fairly empty and fairly quiet. Although the KeyBank Rink capacity is only 1,800, often it remains legitimately half full. A better experience would be aided by a stronger, more passionate fan base.
Getting to HarborCenter is pretty easy. HarborCenter is located just across Perry Street from First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo. It is located near major highways, south of I-190 and east of the Buffalo Skyway. With downtown Buffalo attracting more and more people, parking is becoming a more significant issue.
The first try for parking should be in the garage in HarborCenter. If that is not available, an attendant will direct fans to the correct parking lot. This is crucial as parking for a Sabres game versus parking for a Golden Griffins game is about a $14 difference. The Metro Rail Special Events Station is just east of HarborCenter and is free to ride “above ground.”
Some buses travel the area. Interested fans should check out the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority website for maps, fares, and schedules. The main ticketing gate is at the east side of the building and out of the elevator, on the seventh floor. It is a portable kiosk. Getting around the arena is not a problem at all.
Although the washroom facilities are not huge, they are more than adequate for a crowd of around 1,000. There is also ample room in the concourse for traveling around. With more fans in the stands, washroom facilities could be a bit of an issue.
Return on Investment 5
A Canisius Golden Griffins hockey game provides a solid return on investment for the sports fan. Although the lack of fan support may leave the experience a little lacking, the minimal investment that is to be made by the fan makes up for it.
Tickets for the Griffs go for $20 for a rail seat, $15 for reserved seats, and $10 for general admission. Unless rail seating is an absolute must, the $10 general admission ticket is the way to go. Parking should go for around $3 and concession prices are not too bad.
The product on the ice is solid, as with most NCAA hockey experiences and Canisius does what it can to provide a solid hockey atmosphere. Although the rabid fan base is not there, the investment is so low that fans really can’t complain.
An extra mark for the Canal Cup rivalry with Niagara. Located essentially up the road in Lewiston, the Niagara Purple Eagles are a similar school in size and location and a great rival for the Griffins. An extra mark for the great view of Buffalo from the seventh floor of HarborCenter. An extra mark for the recognition of the high number of Canadian players and fans in attendance with the playing of the Canadian National Anthem before games.
It is a little disappointing to see that the Canisius Golden Griffins have not found a stronger foothold in the Buffalo sports market since moving to the KeyBank Rink @ HarborCenter. That being said, catching the Griffs is a solid sporting experience. The investment is so low and the product on the ice is exciting in a decent college atmosphere. HarborCenter is a great facility and worth checking out.