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Brennan Powers Amerks as Hockey Returns

Rochester Americans come to town

One hundred thirty-five NHL games have now been cancelled. The NHL and its players would have to have an agreement this week in order to salvage a season comprising of a full 82 games. The NHL Winter Classic, a mammoth annual event which had been scheduled to be played this season in Ann Arbor, Michigan before 110,000 fans, is on the verge of cancellation.

The two sides aren’t meeting, an agreement seems so very far apart, and this entire drama is starting to feel very much like the lockout of 2004-2005, when an entire season of NHL action was lost.

No matter. For one night, Buffalo became Hockey Heaven once again. And a big crowd—announced attendance of 10,923—descended on the First Niagara Center this past Tuesday to watch the Buffalo Sabres farmhands, the Rochester Americans, take on the Hamilton Bulldogs, the top affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens.

Four such games were staged in Buffalo during the last lockout, and for a while Buffalo actually held the attendance record for a AHL regular season contest. Fans here just love their hockey, and do what it takes to get their hockey fix.

For the record, it was all Rochester on Tuesday, winning 3-1. All this came thanks to a late power play goal by defensive standout and team leading scorer T. J. Brennan, and the game-winning goal was scored on a nifty solo effort by Cody Hodgson, making the moves in the slot to get his first SCORE.

These weren’t your ordinary Amerks. The squad is bolstered by a number of NHL regulars and faces very familiar to Buffalo fans. Players who are signed to “two-way contracts” are allowed to head down to the minor leagues and ply their craft, while players relegated to “one-way contracts” are prohibited from doing the same. Therefore, say hello, Rochester, to Marcus Foligno, Hodgson, and Brayden McNabb. Luke Adam is also in the lineup, while Corey Tropp has suffered an injury and will miss the rest of the season.

The Amerks were a huge beneficiary during the last labor dispute. They had the league’s best record that year with 112 regular season points. The core of that squad was goalie Ryan Miller, and forwards Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, and Paul Gaustad, all players who became the core of the Sabres once NHL hockey resumed. “The guys you see here today from the big squad could be that nucleus moving forward. They’re exciting to watch and have long careers ahead of them,” said forward Kevin Porter, a fifth-year veteran who played the last two seasons for the Colorado Avalanche and signed with the Buffalo Sabres as a free agent this past summer.

As for this season, so far they are still getting it all together, despite their 4-2 record. They played a shootout thriller on opening night against the Syracuse Crunch, squandering a 4-1 lead before Mark Mancari’s lone shootout goal sent the fans home happy. Two nights later, they came out flat at home against the Binghamton Senators, falling 3-1 before a thankfully sparse crowd in the house.

Brennan, who saw ample playing time with the Sabres last season, is already on fire, and has scored four goals and added four assists in this young season. Brennan’s best night of the season happened this past weekend, when he got two goals in a crazy 8-7 win down in Hershey, and he seems to be happy with his performance so far. “Yeah, it’s great to get some recognition and some good bounces,” he said. “We’re just improving every game, and as a team we’re pretty happy where we are…I’m glad to be part of this.”

Many of the Amerk players were getting their first taste of a big league arena in uniform, and the Sabres set their farmhands up in the main dressing room and player facilities. “It’s a great opportunity for the guys to be here and play in front of all these fans. This is a great experience for them. I know I certainly remember my first day here,” said Brennan. Hodgson added, “You’d have to ask the young guys what they think, but I can tell you tonight’s game had every bit a feel of a big league event. I know all the guys were pumped up for this night here in Buffalo, and these great fans, and it showed.”

Goaltender David Leggio, a Buffalo native, was outstanding in net on Tuesday, earning the second star award of the game. “I had so many friends and family here today in the stands, so this was something extra special for me,” said Leggio.

“I’d like to be able to come up and be here on a full time basis sometime soon,” he added wryly.

Team officials said that there are no set plans at this time for any additional Rochester games to be scheduled at the First Niagara Center. That may, of course, all change if the current labor dispute drags on much further.

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