2026 Commonwealth Games: How hockey brought snow, ice and games to Buffalo

In a remote corner of Western New York, on the banks of a potholed back road, Kinyanma is reminiscing about his experience watching the 1986 Canadian Ice Hockey national team reach the semi-finals of the Olympic Winter Games.

“I was a little kid watching the Olympics on TV,” says the 37-year-old, the leader of the celebrations after Canada’s 4-3 victory over the US.

“I remember going up to the window and pointing at the TV to see if the game was on. It was the last minute, and it was 3-2 to the US.”

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‘Tournament of despair’

The 1986 tournament in Lake Placid was one of those hockey “glory days” when Canada had reached the Olympic semi-finals, with wins over the US, Germany and Sweden. The host nation were favourites to go all the way.

As the Canadian team were wandering towards a glitzy banquet with tickets to see the New York Yankees baseball team, Zamboni machines, toiling to keep up with the game’s accelerating pace, Kinyanma and his nine-year-old brother turned the television off. They stayed home with their mother, but celebrated their sporting heroes when the event came back to Buffalo.

“My dad was a salesman, and when the tournament finished, he had a banquet in the back room of his liquor store. We lived in south Buffalo, because the kids wanted to play on the team next year. They were waiting by the window when the game was going on, and when Canada won it was pandemonium.”

“They were thrilled with the gold, too. Nobody expected Canada to win. In the media, the tournament was called the tournament of despair. Some of the pros had to go down in flames.”

Finally, they rose up

It was the last time Kinyanma saw the Canadian team at the Olympics until they appeared at the 2002 Winter Games, although the Minnesota native did see them play an exhibition match in Buffalo four years ago.

Mike Sweatman, host of Sportsnet shows After Hours, Closer, and Eddie Olczyk, who was coached by Scotty Bowman, has a different recollection.

“This was the worst possible team to play in Buffalo, especially the day before,” he says. “I think the schedule was set up that way because this was when Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, was coming up to see the facility for the 2010 Olympics. They were set up to win, so I think that played a big part in it.”

Kinyanma now heads to business school and is devoting his time to hunting and fishing, preferring to spend his weekends building up a landscaping business

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As the world goes green

As soon as Andrew Junior Salomaki returns from the pond, he relishes the opportunity to link back up with Chris Bigras.

The 16-year-old Bigras is a regular on the Ice Dogs squad, which uses Buffalo’s HarborCenter to play its “home” games, but he has a 3G contract with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The 19-year-old Salomaki is a member of the British Columbia Grizzlies, who play in Seattle.

“I take them both with a grain of salt. One is a Canadian player, and one is a Canadian player playing in the US. They want to win, obviously, but they both want to win at the same time,” says Salomaki.

“It’s a hockey town, a hockey town, and it’s good to have these young players on the team. Buffalo has a long-standing tradition with hockey, you see the same faces. Hopefully, the players like it, and they get the chance to play with each other.

“I love the American guys because of their energy and passion. We have players that are here from two different countries, so it’s kind of funny that we go to training together and play each other in games.”

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