December 04, 2015

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) The world junior hockey championships are heading outdoors.

USA Hockey officials announced Friday that the 2018 tournament will take place in Buffalo and that an outdoor game will be played at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills. The outdoor game will be the featured game from the preliminary round and will take place on Dec. 27 or 29, 2017.

The outdoor game will all but certainly feature the United States and Canada. If the teams aren't scheduled to be in the same group based on the results of the 2017 world juniors, officials have the ability to place the two countries in the same group for the benefit of the tournament.

''That's the goal for sure,'' USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said. ''The IIHF allows some flexibility if the results of the 2017 tournament are such that we're not in the same pool so that a country can be moved. So those early discussions on a `what if' basis have happened. ... We think the U.S.-Canada rivalry is the best in the game and that's obviously what we're designing this for.''

Buffalo also hosted the tournament in 2011.

It will also be the second outdoor hockey game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The NHL's first Winter Classic took place at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Jan. 1, 2008.

The NHL's Buffalo Sabres are expected to submit a bid to host the 2018 Winter Classic, which would take place during the middle of the tournament. Bills and Sabres owner Terry Pegula said speculation over the 2018 Winter Classic is premature, however.

''Right now the logistics of putting those two games together, it's a total unknown,'' Pegula said. ''Why would you ask for something if you don't know if you can do it? We've got another league involved in this decision, too. It's very complex.''

Buffalo edged finalists Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Tampa, Florida. Given its close proximity to Toronto and southern Ontario, Buffalo was considered a favorite to host the tournament.

The 2018 event will have the ability to surpass those totals with the addition of an outdoor game. Ralph Wilson Stadium has a capacity of 71,857 for football games, and 71,217 people attended the inaugural Winter Classic that featured the Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

This time around, Buffalo is even more equipped to host the tournament. Next to the Sabres' home rink, the First Niagara Center, is the new HarborCenter hockey and entertainment complex. HarborCenter, which opened a year ago, has two hockey rinks, including a 3,000-seat venue that can hold some of the tournament games.

In 2011, Niagara University - just north of Buffalo - served as the secondary site for games.

''Having the HarborCenter as a facility makes a major difference for us,'' said Mike Bertsch, assistant executive director of USA Hockey. ''It brings all 10 teams into the same facility, into the same community and one of our concerns and the attributes to this is all 10 teams will feel like a major part of the event for the entire event.''

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