Championship Village a blast for all
By Aaron Cheris
While the IIHF World Junior Championship pits 10 of the world’s best junior hockey teams against one another on the ice in Buffalo, Championship Village, which sits just steps from the arena at Canalside, is uniting fans of all countries and of all ages.
With a 40-foot tall toboggan slide, hockey skills competition, live music, a frozen jersey display, and more, the one-of-a-kind experience has brought an added element of excitement to the tournament.
“We just wanted to give people a chance to come and take advantage of the games being played here,” Sabres Sr. Vice President Michael Gilbert said. “Between games, fans are getting the opportunity to socialize with other fans and grab something to eat and drink.”
Engagement is the main goal of the Championship Village, as it brings a spot for fans to relax between games without having to remain outside in the Buffalo winter.
The experience is something that the World Junior Championships haven’t seen before. For fans that have been to the tournament before, the village offered a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively.
“They didn’t have something like this last year in Montreal,” said Canadian fan John Blamondon. “We will take a drink at the bar, of course, and take part in the other outdoor activities here. This is a great idea and it is beautiful.”
“This adds a lot and gives you something to do in between games,” said Buffalo native Dennis Badding, who was at the game with his son Brennan. “I was here last time the juniors were here in 2011, and we just sat around and waited in between games. To have this now, it’s awesome.”
Many, like Mark Szuniewicz and his son Joshua, were sure to test of their skills at the hockey skills competition tent, which featured accuracy shooting and hardest shot challenges. As Joshua put up 35 miles per hour on the radar gun, Mark was soaking in the fun of the whole experience.
“We came down here early because I wanted to make sure we got to do everything and I’m glad we did because he is having so much fun here,” Mark said. “Everything about growing the game for kids and being able to experience something of this magnitude is great. It’s been phenominal.”
For some, the opportunity to test their hockey skills was a highlight. However, many seem to agree on what the highlight of the Championship Village is.
“The toboggan slide,” young Canadian fan Dylan Poirer exclaimed when asked what his favorite part was. “I went on it probably 20 times. It’s great.”
Niagara resident Jeffrey Meyer and his son Matthew agreed. Although Matthew didn’t go down quite as many times as Dylan, both of their fathers agree on the fun that the village brought.
“We’re really glad we came here,” said Jeffrey Meyer. “We came after the game just to check this out and we were impressed.”
“It’s very well done,” said Toronto resident Andre Poirer. “We came here thinking the border crossing would take longer and we got here early and we’ve enjoyed it. I think this atmosphere is great.”
One added bonus of the village is that there is always something different happening in the main tent. Before the United States battled Finland on Sunday, former Buffalo Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta was on hand to meet fans and sign autographs.
“For me to be here and welcome the fans to the Buffalo area is important for not only myself, but the Sabres organization,” Kaleta said. “This is a cool place to have the fans interact, have fun, and get what Buffalo is all about.”
When asked what his favorite part of the Championship Village would be, Kaleta sided with the youngsters in saying the slide. But unlike the kids, Kaleta won’t be taking part because he says he’s injury prone.
At the village, it was not uncommon to see a wide variety of jerseys from notional teams, professional teams, and even the odd foreign club. Decked head to toe in Slovakia gear, Gabriella Studenic and her family were on hand to support their son, Marian, a forward for the Slovak team.
Having seen her son play all around the world, Gabriella couldn’t find much to compare the Championship Village to.
“We want to feel the atmosphere of the championship and we think it is great here,” she said. “I like everything. We are enjoying the nice experience of the championship and we like it very much.”
There is still time to enjoy the Championship Village, as it will be open until the tournament concludes on Friday night. Full hours of operation and a list of events can be found here at BuffaloWorldJuniors.com.