It’s that time of year. Temperatures falling, kids going back to school and pumpkins getting carved. Oh, and it’s hockey season too, at least for the AHL.
For the first time since 2004, the Americans are the focus of the Western New York Hockey market. The NHL lockout is in full swing, and there is no end until at the minimum October, 25th. Rochester Amercians hockey is here, and about to face off.
The Americans, or ‘Amerks’ as they are affectionatley called here locally, are set to start thier season off at home on Friday October 12th against their I-90 rivals, the Syracuse Crunch.
The 2011-12 Rochester Americans season was one to both forget and remember. The reason to forget is the way the roster was butchered all year due to injuries with the big club.
The reasons to remember were the strong playoff push, David Leggio putting the team on his shoulders late in the season for a playoff run and the emergence of players like Phil Varone, Evan Rankin and Nick Crawford.
The Buffalo Sabres are mired in the NHL lockout, which meant that some of the bubble players at the NHL level would be sent here to play, and that they could provide some exciting hockey for Amerks fans to start the 2012-13 season. All players with eligible two-way contracts were sent down.
Rochester currently have a multitude of players with NHL experience. The following players have NHL experience going into this season:
Joe Finley – D – 5 Games Played - Buffalo Sabres
T.J. Brennan – D – 11 Games Played – Buffalo Sabres
Brayden McNabb - D - 25 Games Played – Buffalo Sabres
Kevin Porter – LW – 163 Games Played – Pheonix Coyotes, Colorado Avanlanche
Corey Tropp – RW – 34 Games Played – Buffalo Sabres
Cody Hodgson – C – 92 Games Played – Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres
Marcus Foligno – LW – 14 Games Played -Buffalo Sabres
Luke Adam – C – 71 Games Played – Buffalo Sabres
Nick Tarnasky – C – 245 Games Played – Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers
Mark Mancari – RW- 42 Games Played – Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks
Porter and Tarnasky were signed for future NHL depth if needed, for injury sake. They will provide great leadership in Rochester for the young players down from Buffalo, as well as the young core of the Amerks. Joe Finley was up for a cup of coffee in mid season due to injuries, and I really do not see him contributing at the NHL level.
In the AHL however, Finley provides that edge the Amerks may need early in the season to protect the talent on the ice. Mark Mancari was always a fan favortie in Rochester, and will provide a much needed offensive pop on the power play from the point. Mancari is known for his grit, and poweful slapshot.
McNabb, Foligno and Hodgson all have NHL written right on them. Both Foligno and McNabb have a real shot at being full time players for the Sabres this season, however, will contribute greatly in Rochester. Both are physical, big bodies that can take control of a game.
These three could provide an edge in both physical play and developing leadship roles. Hodgson has played extensively in the NHL for Vancouver and Buffalo, albeit a slow start with the Sabres last year after the trade with the Canucks. He should be the top offensive talent for the team this season.
The most intriguing names on this list are Corey Tropp, T.J. Brennan and Luke Adam. Tropp proved himself to be nearly a point per game producer in the AHL for Rochester, and could throw a body check and some punches if needed. Luke Adam has it all there to be great. He has the size and build (6′ 2″, 203 lbs) and plays the position the Buffalo franchise longs for someone to take a hold of. I see him along the lines of a Jeff Carter at the NHL level, if he can develop his skills in Rochester.
Adam could not put things together in Buffalo last year, mostly due to line shifting on a nightly basis. When Adam was sent to Rochester, it appeared he had given up on his year from the get go. He was booed on a few occasions in Rochester, and didn’t pick up his play until toward the end of the season. Adam needs to have a strong season, and prove he can use that size to dominate at this level. Motivation could be the best thing for Luke Adam this season, as well as the Amerks.
T.J. Brennan provides an offensive punch from the blue line, in a small package. He is not the strongest on defense, but proved last year in Rochester he is not a total liability either. He actually had more goals scored (16), then assists (14) last season. His size says otherwise, being 6’0″ and 203 lbs. He and Nick Crawford provide a good second line pairing of D-men who can put some points on the board.
The roster is rounded out with solid forwards all around. Maxime Legault, Rick Schofield, Jacob Legace and possibly Jonathon Parker rounding out the lines. On defense, Alex Biega is a great puck moving defensman and is a top four pairing on this roster, and Matt MacKenzie to provide some muscle on the ice. Corey Fienhage and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc were on the bubble, and likely down to the ECHL. Two players that we will be watching closely, and with the expectation they wont’ be here long, are Zemgus Girgensons and Mark Pysyk.
Girgensons made a splash starting at rookie camp, when he went out on the ice and outperformed his fellow first round pick in the 2012 draft, Mikhail Grigorenko. Girgensons flew around the ice putting a shoulder into anything he could hit, and showing flashes of great puck handling skills during the blue vs. gold scrimmages. He is a power forward, and should provide a great boost for the Amerks on one of the top two lines at center.
Pysyk is coming off a great final season of Junior, where helped the Edmonton Oil Kings to thier farthest progression into the playoffs in franchise history. There are high hopes for this young man in the organization, and we get to see it first in Rochester.
The goaltending situation is all but locked up by the 2011-12 team MVP, David Leggio. He did not start the season off well last year, however his stats are misleading. With a 28-24-2 record last season, he finished strong for the Amerks. Leggio started the majority of games the last quarter of the season.
His unyielding dedication and strong net play pushed the Amerks to the playoffs in the final week of the season. At seasons end, coach Ron Rolston had no confidence in backup Drew MacIntyre. This season, the Amerks will have backups to use on a rotating basis who should be able to spell Leggio and keep him fresh.
Conner Knapp is fresh out of his senior year playing NCAA hockey. He has not faced professional shooters yet, and this could be his one weakness that sees him start in the ECHL. He had a respectable collegiate career with Miami (Ohio), and took his team to the Frozen Four in 2010.
His competition is Nathan Liewen, a goaltender who was bred in the WHL ranks. He has been facing junior level talent since 2006, at the age of 16. He has four full seasons with Kootenay Ice, and was named the MVP of the finals in 2010-11. Liewen has the better chance of landing with the team to start the season, with a chance to rotate to the ECHL with Knapp. In any terms, having the two of them pushing each other is a good thing, raising the bar for the backup position. Even better, will be the pushing of Leggio to shine from the beginning.
There are some players that have left, and they will be missed in Rochester. Paul Szczechura had 46 points in 57 contests last year. Along with Szczechura, Mark Voakes who was the 5th leading scorer last year, and Travis Turnbull (affectionately called the Sherriff ), all have signed with teams in Europe for larger money. Long time Amerk and local boy, Derek Whitmore was not invited back. Colin Stuart and Shoane Morrison also are not back with the team.
Overall, the Amerks were 36-26-10-4. There is definate room for improvement with the roster as it stands now. Having the calvery here to start the season should gve them a boost, and hopefully get off to a roaring start. Their powerplay should be better with Mancari back, Brennan with another year under his belt and the addition of Pysyk on the point.
With Foligno parked in front, and Hodgson to feed him the puck, a marked improvement should be expected. They are a team of strong defensive forwards, and with David Leggio having the season ending run he did, the penalty kill should be stonger this year as well.
The prospect of saying the Amerks can compete for a playoff postion is very premature at this point. Especially as it needs to be pointed out that not only the Sabres have loaded up thier AHL team with a good talent pool.
It should be a great year for hockey in Rochester, lockout or not.
Go Hockey. Go Amerks.
Rating: 4.5/5 (2 votes cast)
Rochester Americans' season preview, 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings