Thursday August 29, 2013 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
WHAT AN HONOR — Last month, Nik Fattey of Hamburg (left) was introduced by John Koelmel, the president of Harbor Center, as the project’s vice president/director of hockey programing. Photo used courtesy of the Buffalo Sabres. Hamburg native and Sabres scout to be part of downtown project
The lockout that cost the National Hockey League about half of its 2012 – 2013 season is not something franchises like the Buffalo Sabres look back on fondly.
But, if anything positive came out of the time lost to the labor dispute, it was that Sabres executives had the opportunity to sit down in a room together on a consistent basis, to discuss the Harbor Center project.
Team representatives used their time to get on the same page and set a plan in motion for the $175 million mixed-use hockey and entertainment facility currently under construction on the Webster Block in downtown Buffalo.
Attending a number of those meetings about the new complex was Nik Fattey, a Hamburg native working as a scout with his hometown NHL franchise.
Normally working in the Sabres’ pro scouting department under General Manager Darcy Regier, Fattey found himself away from his normal duties and with ample time to sit in on some of these idea-discussing sessions.
“I got involved in the sort of stuff I probably wouldn’t ever have, if not for the lockout,” said Fattey, who credited Sabres’ owner Terry Pegula and wife Kim for their dedication to helping lay the groundwork for downtown growth. “We would have never gotten done, as an organization, what we did if the regular season was going on at the time,” he added.
When the 2012 – 13 season ended, John Koelmel was named president of the Harbor Center in June. While putting together a staff for the project, he looked to Fattey as a good fit to bring on to the Harbor Center complex staff.
Fattey had gained a unique knowledge for the project dedicated to the city of Buffalo and hockey, during those meetings. It also did not hurt that Fattey had formed a connection with the sport in this area, through playing at St. Francis High School and then Fredonia State College, along with coaching and helping out with some of the area’s most visible programs.
Last month, Fattey was named vice president/director of hockey programming at the Harbor Center. His job responsibilities include creating a destination for hockey players, coaches, scouts, fans and families and helping mold an internationally recognized hockey development center.
“Nik will lead our team in developing the Harbor Center into a destination where hockey will thrive at all levels,” Koelmel said, in a press release. “He has an extensive hockey background at the highest levels of the sport — both nationally with amateur hockey in the U.S. and also on the international stage — and will leverage that experience and expertise to elevate Harbor Center’s presence in the hockey world.”
Fattey will be involved with much of the hockey programming at the center, which will have a stated focus of educating players and coaches, bringing amateur hockey and tournaments to Buffalo and adding to the development and opportunities in hockey in the community.
The foundation was set for Fattey, during his time playing, coaching and being involved in such organizations as the Niagara Scenics (Buffalo Junior Sabres), Buffalo Regals, Hamburg Hawks, West Seneca Wings and Buffalo Saints. He is also an Athletic Wall of Fame inductee at St. Francis.
“To have a chance to formulate all of the ideas that have been put into place — with players and coaches development — and to raise the collective Buffalo hockey community and have the facilities to do so, it’s exciting to help lead the charge,” said Fattey, who emphasized that his job is to add to what Buffalo already has; not to take away from it. “There’s going to be something for everyone — players, coaches and fans.”
Fatty spent the last eight years as a scout with the Sabres, starting in 2005 – 2006 as an amateur scout and moving to the pro level, before the 2011 – 2012 season. He has been involved with the NHL Combine and Entry Draft, Traverse City Prospects Tournament and the IIHF World Championships.
“With his finger on the pulse of hockey in Western New York and the resources that he will have available at Harbor Center, we are eager to see Nik bring hockey in this city to a new and exciting level,” Koelmel said.
Fattey said that he remembers growing up on Center Street in the village of Hamburg and skating outside on the flooded field of Union-Pleasant School, during winters. Hockey for him and his family started in Hamburg youth leagues and became a way of life. His brothers, Chris and Marc, also wound up playing in college.
His father, Craig Fattey, coached Nik, while he was growing up, and became a longtime coach at St. Francis. Nik Fattey got an early education in music, with both of his parents’ being music teachers, including his mother, Marcia. His upbringing also included soccer and, of course, hockey, which he said became a huge part of his life.
“This means a lot to me,” Fattey said. “This is all I’ve been thinking and breathing for years. Part of the job is that I understand the lay of the land. I’ve lived it, I’ve played it and I’ve coached it.”
He said that he would like to pass on what he has learned to youth players and coaches, through education. He said that is is also his hope that Buffalo will play a part not only in building hockey players, but creating careers for former players, like himself, in the sport, similar to what is done in Minnesota, Michigan and the New England area.
“In Buffalo, we’re starting to get that infrastructure, but there’s still work to be done,” said Fattey, who said he plans to still do some scouting for the Sabres, to help him stay connected to hockey. “We need to have more people providing advice about what you can do beyond playing hockey.”
Actually seeing the building go up at the site of what will be the Harbor Center has provided a mix of anxiety and excitement for Fattey, who said that he is still a little in shock that this project is coming to fruition right in front of his eyes, as his office remains at First Niagara Center, right across the street.
“It gives me a lot of motivation and I’m nervous with anticipation,” said Fattey, while out on the construction site, in full view of the cranes’ lifting a pile of dirt. “We’re in the office and meeting and doing the best we can to make it a big hit. We want to get things going.”
The Harbor Center has already welcomed Canisius College hockey on board, as the site of the Griffs’ home games, and reached an agreement with Marriott International and Shaner Hotels, to develop a hotel facility. Programming announcements could come in the next half a year, according to Fattey, while construction is slated to last until the fall of 2014.
The rink will provide ice time to youth teams in the area, but Fattey also pointed out, “You can build six more of these and you’ll still need more ice time. If we want to grow the games, we need the rinks.
“We’ll look for what’s needed, help fix some things and lend our support,” added Fattey, whose anticipation for the project is mirroring that of the entire Buffalo area.