STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANK: #24
- 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.
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. 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. Scoreboard is smaller by modern standards.
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 good; 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. It’s nice to see a thriving inner city neighborhood in a Rust Belt city.
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.