On Saturday, Erie Community College's Kats entered HARBORCENTER's glistening Canalside confines, dropped the puck against interstate rival Hudson Valley, and ushered in yet another example of how the three-campus college is continuously looking to enhance its downtown opportunities - both on the ice and in the classroom.
"ECC, whether with our picturesque City Campus or career-focused students, has always had a strong presence in downtown Buffalo," said ECC President Jack Quinn. "But to be involved with one of the most impressive developments in this city's history just takes that presence to another level."
The excitement for ECC's 2014-15 hockey season has been building since the April announcement of the college's partnership with the brand new HARBORCENTER. The facility recently debuted as home to two NHL-size ice surfaces (with a seating capacity of 1,800 on Rink 1 where ECC will play), the Academy of Hockey, IMPACT Sports Performance training facility, (716) Food and Sport restaurant, a flagship Tim Hortons Café and Bake Shop, and a 750-space parking ramp. A 205-room, full-service Marriott Hotel will open in the complex in the spring of 2015, and the neighborhood around it continues to evolve, whether with interpretive canals on the old Memorial Auditorium site, or with added bars, restaurants and amenities popping up on surrounding streets.
On Saturday, the block added Kats home games to its growing offering of activities.
ECC's hockey team - 2011 National Junior College Athletic Association champions - has eight returning players and is already off to a good start on the season. As the team gets used to its new downtown environs, the Gary Rost-led independent member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association will attempt to skate toward its annual goal of a Region III championship, which would assure an automatic bid to the NJCAA tournament.
This year, the title pursuit at home will play inside HARBORCENTER, something ECC Athletic Director Peter Jerebko said he is thrilled about.
"The Erie Community College Athletic Department and Kats Hockey Program are extremely excited to be involved with the opening of HARBORCENTER," he said. "ECC enjoys a tremendous tradition in junior college hockey. I'm confident that our reputation in and around Western New York will only be enhanced as our coaches can now show future ECC hockey players such an outstanding facility we can call home for many years to come."
And this partnership not only adds to the evolving landscape of ECC athletics. It also creates a unique opportunity for its student body. The college's connection with HARBORCENTER adds another local business partnership to the college's list of more than 300 throughout the region, but also adds another link between ECC and the growing development of downtown Buffalo. Since 2009, the college has committed close to $30 million to restoring and improving its City Campus buildings; continues to host local and national athletic competitions inside its Flickinger Center; and is always looking for ways to connect its career-focused students with opportunities across the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, throughout the central business district or within South Buffalo's forthcoming Riverbend project.
For now, ECC's students can take pride in their team's new downtown home, rising near its City Campus footprint and ready to host red- and black-clad fans for seasons to come.
"It's an exciting time to be at Erie Community College, and it's a tremendous pleasure to watch our students playing a vital part in Buffalo's ongoing resurgence," Quinn said. "Now let's win some hockey games."
Erie Community College is a member of the state's SUNY system.