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Jr. Sabres U12 Squad First Step Towards Sabres Hockey Academy?

06/27/12
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With the Buffalo Sabres creating an U12 team to compete in a prestigious tournament in Quebec, what’s to stop them from establishing an informal “hockey academy” with teams in multiple age groups and adding to this Hockey Heaven thing that fans love to talk about?


(Editor’s Note: I feel compelled to state that this post is just purely a flight of fancy.)

Yesterday, the Sabres announced that they – along with the Buffalo Sabres Alumni Association and Buffalo Jr. Sabres – would be forming a special Jr. Sabres peewee squad to participate in the 53rd Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament.

From the news release:

The team will be created specifically to participate in the annual 11-day tournament held each February in Quebec City. The roster will be comprised of players who reside in the Western New York and Central New York regions.

Former Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick will serve as head coach of the Buffalo Jr. Sabres 12U team. Tryouts for the team will be held in early September. Further details regarding tryouts will be released in the coming weeks.

The Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament is the centerpiece of the annual Quebec City Winter Carnival, which is the third-largest outdoor festival on the planet.

The tournament, commonly referred to as the “Pee-Wee World Championship,” is the oldest and most prestigious youth hockey tournament in the world. An estimated 2,300 Pee-Wee players – ages 11 and 12 years old – travel from 16 different countries to participate in the event, which draws about 200,000 fans each year.

The event has served as an early showcase for more than 600 active and retired National Hockey League players, including Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Howe, Guy Lafleur, Mario Lemieux , Eric Lindros, Gilbert Perreault, and current Sabres Nathan Gerbe and Thomas Vanek.

Upon reading the release, an idea sprang to mind. Soccer clubs around the world utilize youth academies to develop talent, so why not (in a similar but not exact fashion) the Sabres?

The difference would be stark, of course. If the Sabres were to establish a hockey academy with teams for various age groups (peewee, bantam, junior) in local leagues, they wouldn’t own the rights to those players like a professional soccer club would theirs. It would just establish a more refined pipeline for elite local talent, either growing them here or preparing them for opportunities at places like Shattuck St. Mary’s. A group of high profile local squads would also increase the chance of tourneys being held here, and we all know Western New York loves to host some hockey tournaments.

This is just a late-night idea from your humble author, but it got me thinking further. What if “Hockey Heaven”, that throwaway nickname Terry Pegula said at his introductory press conference that fans have latched on to, isn’t so much about the Sabres themselves but about the culture surrounding them? A possible Sabres hockey academy would fit the bill, as would the Sabres’ twin rink bid for the Webster block and their involvement with inner city youth programs.

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