Long-suffering Amerks fans enjoying breakout season
While Sabres fans endure yet another lost and woeful season, this one especially disappointing after the team’s run of success earlier in the year, things are looking far better for the Buffalo Sabres’ farm team, the AHL Rochester Americans.
This century has not been kind to what is one of the historic and elite franchises in the American Hockey League. The organization underwent a chaotic ownership situation replete with drama and mismanagement. Despite the marketing synergies between the two cities 70 miles apart, the Amerks signed on with the Florida Panthers in 2005 in what was an unusual dual affiliation arrangement. The Sabres then bolted, taking their affiliation to Portland, Maine for several seasons.
The Panthers partnership fared poorly both at the gate and on the ice. When the Pegulas purchased the Buffalo Sabres in 2011, one of his first questions was why were the Sabres farmhands playing so far away, when Rochester served as a no brainer as the team affiliate.
So what did Terry Pegula do? He bought the Rochester Americans, lock, stock and barrel. For $5,000,000. There were some hiccups; the Sabres still had a deal for three more seasons to remain in Portland. There was the matter of the two competing National Lacrosse League teams and how their ownerships would shake out. All was resolved by June of 2011.
The Pegula era has not translated to on-ice success in Rochester. From 2012 through 2014, the team made early first round exits in the playoffs. Then for the following three seasons the Amerks played some of their most hideous hockey in years, mirroring the “tank” squad up in Buffalo.
They did qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs last season, getting swept by the Syracuse Crunch in the opening round. Now Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark dished up one of his more forgettable performances in that series in net for the Amerks.
Their last Calder Cup championship was in 1996,
In fact, the last time the Americans won a playoff series was back in 2005. Notable players on that team, which was during a season-long player lockout in the NHL, included guys such as Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, and Paul Gaustad.
Oh and one more player… Jason Botterill. Yes that Botterill, who’s now the Sabres general manager and is the guy in charge of both franchises’ fortunes. Botterill played but eight games that year before an injury would end his playing career. But the cohesiveness and culture of that team that year in Rochester made a lasting impact.
Botterill minced no words when he was named general manager in 2017. It was music to the ears of Rochester fans when he specifically mentioned the importance of building a winner at the minor league level. His Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins never missed making the playoffs in his eight seasons within the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. He referenced the culture of winning, and how that translated to the Penguins success winning two Stanley Cups during that era and the contributors from the minors who were a part of that success.
And then he mentioned the 2005-2007 Sabres key players and how that success on the ice began from their success in Rochester in those years prior, viewed from his personal experience.
This year’s Amerks squad offers a balanced attack on offense and defense. There are no “superstars”, per se. Forwards Victor Oloffson and C.J. Smith are in the 20 goal club. Wayne Simpson and Danny O’Regan are close. Both Smith and O’Regan have spent time here in Buffalo.
Joining them is defenseman Zach Redmond with 21 goals and 47 points. Redmond is the leading scorer amongst defenseman in the AHL.
This would give the Amerks at least five 20 goal scorers on a team which failed to produce even one last season, only the second time in franchise history where that has happened.
Scott Wedgewood and Adam Wilcox have split goaltending duties in net, both posting decent numbers.
Heading into this weekend, Rochester find themselves in third place in the league, and are a virtual certainty to qualify for this year’s Calder Cup playoffs.
They are in a dogfight with their cross Thruway rivals the Syracuse Crunch for supremacy in the North Division, and that contest might go down to the final weekend in April.
The best statistic coming out of this year’s team is their road record. The team is 18-6-3-1 away from Blue Cross Arena, the second best in the league. That road success could bode well come playoff time when stealing games away from home can make all the difference in winning a series, especially the opening round which is a best of five.
There are 18 games left, ending on April 14. Then it all gets real.
Keep an eye out for the Amerks this spring. They could be playing deep into the spring. What that means for the Sabres come training camp in fall has yet to be determined.
Like many of us, Taro received his season ticket holders survey as the Buffalo Sabres organization hints at substantial renovations to KeyBank Center in the near future. The survey was heavy on questions regarding club seats, on the glass seats, suites, and some sort of new “loge” seats, and what price points would the ticket buying public accept for these premium seating configurations.
What the survey was very short on was what kind of fan amenities would the public like to see, the evolution of concession fare and corresponding prices, and opinions regarding the continued presence of the hideous and execrable DJ Milk as game night host, delivering to Buffalo the worst game night experience in the NHL.