MARQUETTE — About five months ago, Lakeview Arena found out live on national television that it had been named Hockeyville USA. Since then, with the help of the entire community, the venue was renovated and prepared to host an NHL pre–season game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Carolina Hurricanes. And now, the day has arrived.
A large crowd gathered outside Lakeview Arena early this morning to welcome the Sabres and Hurricanes to Hockeyville USA. Some people called off work and some kids even got to skip school.
“It’s awesome. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Jack Halgren.
“I was pretty excited. I was with all of my friends. We had a sleepover. And we were going to skip school,” said Dylan King.
“Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and awesome autographs and stuff like that,” said Anthony Demattia
The players signed everything for the fans and took some time to take pictures with the kids. As for the younger fans, they wanted to see one player in particular, Sabres center Jack Eichel.
“It’s great. I think it’s obviously a huge compliment. It’s exciting for me because I just try to remember when I was in their position and looking up to hockey players in the NHL,” Eichel said.
The teams then made their way to the ice for morning skate, a part of the gameday routine that usually doesn’t feature as big of a crowd as there was today.
“I came out to watch Carolina’s morning skate and was amazed at not only the people in the stands, but the energy in the stands and the cheering of the people in the stands. Very few of them have a team in play here. They’re just cheering for hockey,” said head coach Dan Bylsma.
“When we pulled up, I expected that all those people would be coming inside for pre-game skate. That’s definitely the biggest pre-game skate we’ve ever had,” left winger Marcus Foligno.
Many of the players had never been to Marquette, but for coach Bylsma and Eichel, it was a familiar place.
“It felt a lot bigger coming back. I remember the overhangs and the rafters. It’s still familiar, even though it was a few years ago,” Bylsma said.
“I played Northern Michigan so I’m decently familiar. I spent the weekend here before. It wasn’t new for me coming here,” said Eichel.
Lakeview is a much smaller venue than what the players are used to. But they all say enjoying the experience is going to be the most important part.
“Well as a big guy, it might be to my advantage. I don’t have to skate too much to get the puck around or to hit some guys out there. It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge,” Foligno said.
“It just brings back memories when you’re playing in a rink like that. It’s a long way from places like the Key Bank Center and the NHL rinks. You start somewhere and you can’t forget your roots. We’ve all played in rinks like this. I’m excited for it. It’s pretty small. I imagine there will be a lot of people here tonight and it will be a little different change of pace,” said Eichel.
Puck drop for the game is scheduled for 7 o’clock.