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‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through the land, little boys and girls went to sleep with new hockey sticks in their hands.

But there’s more to developing into a good hockey player than shiny new equipment and a few puck-handling skills.

That’s where the HarborCenter Academy of Hockey comes into play.

The academy is a part of the HarborCenter project, currently under construction in front of First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo.

While the construction includes two NHL-sized rinks and a world-class fitness center, the Academy of Hockey is about more than just your typical hockey drills and off-ice training.

It’s about innovation, technology and making Buffalo a global destination for cutting-edge hockey training.

“We want to be known as the development destination for hockey players,” said Kevyn Adams, HarborCenter Vice President and Director of the Hockey Academy. “We want this to be a place not only to develop the talent we have in Western New York and Southern Ontario but a destination for people from all over the world to come, train and share knowledge. Simply put, we want to be at the forefront of a player identifying how can I get better at hockey? I want to come to the academy.”

It begins with state-of-the-art facilities at HarborCenter including the rinks and fitness centers. But it also includes theater-style classrooms, video and other technology to get the most out of training. (Want to see how hard you’re really working? Try hooking up a heart rate monitor and having your numbers displayed on the big board.)

The buzzword is “innovation.” The academy wants to be innovative in its approach to developing hockey players and that means looking at the hockey athlete, not just the hockey player.

“It’s not just on-ice skills,” said former Buffalo Sabre Adam Mair who has agreed to join the Academy of Hockey as a primary coach. “It’s also about nutrition, working with strength and conditioning coaches and experts to develop hockey-specific off-ice conditioning. When they go into the fitness center, we want it to be very hockey-specific, something that’s different than if you just go into a gym. We want to develop the athlete and not just hockey skills.”

But part of the development of the complete hockey player includes specific hockey knowledge, which is where the “academy” part comes in making the venture more than just a training facility. The plan, according to Adams, includes a research component while reaching out to the best coaches and programs around the world.

“We may look at Swedish players and wonder why they’re so good at controlling the puck,” Adams said. “Coaches on our staff will do research, talk to coaches and players from Sweden, see what they’re doing and bring it here.”

That also opens up the possibility for exchange programs, sharing knowledge and making Buffalo the focal point for a range of hockey development.

“We’re going to be able to touch everybody from youths to pros. That’s the goal,” Mair said. “Boys and girls. Players and coaches. We want to raise the learning curve of hockey and hockey development in the region.”

Programming will be roughly divided between in-season and off-season. In-season programs geared more toward supplemental sessions while off-season programs will be geared toward intensive development.

And while the academy will be researching and bringing innovative training techniques to players, it also will be coaching the coaches. The academy will provide programming to coaches to help them raise their level and ability allowing the innovation at HarborCenter to have a further reach.

“We want to raise the level of coaching,” Adams said. “We want the coaches that we help educate to understand the game, the practice plans, all the things that go into coaching. We feel by them having that knowledge they go back to their programs, they’re going to certainly help develop their players and it’s just going to help more players in the area.”

While HarborCenter is still under construction, youth teams can already benefit from the expertise of the Academy of Hockey.

“If you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you,” said Nik Fattey, vice president and director of hockey at HarborCenter. “There are opportunities right now for youth teams to get involved. And we’re always ready to listen to ideas and to answer any questions about how we can help a team or league.”

Right now, youth hockey teams (ages 8-16) in Western New York and Southern Ontario can win a practice with the Academy of Hockey’s staff along with tickets to a Buffalo Sabres game as part of the Team of the Month contest.

To enter, participants should go to www.Facebook.com/HARBORCENTER to submit a nomination. In 300 words or less teams should list on-ice accomplishments, scholastic achievements and community involvement.

Entries are due by midnight, Jan. 12 with the top three teams announced on Jan. 13. Of those top three, the team with the most Facebook “likes” by 9 p.m. Jan. 17 will be the winner.

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The Sabres did not practice on Wednesday and will also have today off as part of the three-day NHL holiday shutdown. The team will reunite for a morning skate Friday morning in Toronto before taking on the Leafs that night.

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It looks like the Sabres will be missing forwards Matt Ellis and Johna Larsson on Friday. According to the Rochester Americans’ website, the two, who played in Buffalo’s 2-1 overtime win over the Phoenix Coyotes Monday night, were en route to Switzerland to join the team for the Spengler Cup. The Amerks are playing in the six-team tournament beginning today.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com