STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANK: #28
- Location: Buffalo, New York
- Opened 1996
- Capacity 19,070
- Games attended: 4
- Last visited: 2022
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.
I’ve been four times. It has had a different name every time. It was called the Marine Midland Arena when I went in the 1990s, HSBC Arena in the 2000s, First Niagara Center when I went in 2016, and its current moniker, KeyBank Center, when I went in 2022. While it’s had several monikers, it should get credit for being a critical cog in the revitalization of the Canalside and Cobblestone districts of Downtown Buffalo.
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 “fine” but decidedly unspectacular. The building is starting to show its age with cracks in the floor and some rust appearing. Scoreboard is small by modern standards. Concessions are a little less varied; if you’re looking for local standouts such as beef-on-weck (shaved roast beef topped with a spicy horseradish sauce on a salt encrusted roll), bologna & fried onions, or buffalo wings, you’re better off getting them before you come. Beer selection is just OK. Overall, it’s below average based on current NHL standards.
Sabres fans have had it rough. They have zero Stanley Cup wins in their team history, and no playoff appearances since 2011. Given the lack of success, empty seats are common which dulls the overall vibe.
On the flipside, Buffalo can be one of the more affordable places to see an NHL game. Many season ticket holders sell off large swaths of their tickets, meaning that savvy fans can normally find ducats cheaper on the secondary market than from the team. Parking can normally be found for a good price if you’re willing to brave a little of those cold Buffalo winters and walk a bit.
The KeyBank Center is an OK place to watch a game, but most are better. 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.