STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANK: #23
- Location: Buffalo, New York
- Opened 1996
- Capacity 19,070
- Games attended: 3
- Last visited: 2015
As a young adult growing up, I had three NHL arenas within about a 2 hour drive: Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, and The Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. All three were great barns. The Aud in particular was one of the most memorable given its smaller ice surface and incredibly steep pitch (I remember that in the Orange level, your knees would be aligned with the top of the head of the person in front of you).
The KeyBank Center, while a good rink, has created no such lifelong memories. Truth be told, I’ve never been to the “KeyBank Center”; the arena was named the Marine Midland Arena, HSBC Arena and First Niagara Center the three times I went.
From the outside, it looks like a Top 10 building. The exterior architecture is quite attractive. The Alumni Plaza outside the rink features the French Connection statue thus adding a nice touch of history. And if you want a little more hockey lore before entering the rink, in the attached LECOM Harborfront Center is Tim Horton’s flagship American location that includes a veritable museum to this chain’s namesake founder.
Inside is nice but similar to many other arenas. Concessions are a little less varied, though they still feature local standbys like beef-on-weck (shaved roast beef topped with a spicy horseradish sauce on a salt encrusted roll) and Bologna & fried onions. And there’s a Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame exhibit by the team store. Otherwise, it’s just another good, albeit standard, building.
Sabres fans have had it rough. They have zero Stanley Cup wins in their team history, and no playoff appearances since 2011. Despite a large season ticket base, empty seats have become more common meaning season holders are eating tickets. Savvy fans can normally find ducats cheaper on the secondary market than from the team. And given that parking can normally be found for a good price, Buffalo can be one of the more affordable places to see an NHL game. The crowd in the building is amazing; alas lately, it’s been thinner, leading to a less exciting atmosphere.
Attendance aside, the arena should get credit for being a critical cog in the revitalization of the Canalside and Cobblestone districts of Downtown Buffalo. I was there on a non-game day a few years ago, and was impressed to see how much better these downtown neighborhoods are doing.
The KeyBank Center is a fine place to watch a game, but so are the others. For the sake of a region starving for a winner, I hope the team finds its mojo again soon and makes a playoff run that rekindles the dormant fan support.