The Rochester Americans’ season begins tonight at 7:05 p.m. as they host the Syracuse Crunch.
Despite the fact that the Buffalo Sabres called up many vital pieces for extended periods of time during their injury riddled season, the Amerks still managed to clinch a playoff berth last year. Its success was short lived and the Americans were excused from the postseason by the Toronto Marlies in the first round. Rochester looks to get the win at home against a Syracuse team that finished the 2011-12 season with a similar point total; just two points under the Amerks at 86.
The interest surrounding this game, the Amerks, and the AHL for that matter, are heightened comparing to previous years because of the NHL lockout. The early parts of the NHL season have already been have cancelled and, realistically, the rest looks to be locked out as well. Resulting from this, NHL players have found themselves leaving for foreign leagues like the KHL, or staying with their organization’s affiliated farm teams such as the Amerks.
Contrasting with last season’s depleted rosters, Rochester’s depth charts are complimented with the likes of Joe Finley, TJ Brennan, Brayden Mcnabb, Corey Tropp, Cody Hodgsons, Mark Mancari, Marcus Foligno and Luke Adam, all of whom logged time with the Buffalo Sabres in past seasons and bring an NHL level work ethic, intensity and skill set to the table. Most of these players saw ice time, and some played key roles in the Sabres late year post season surge.
For Rochester fans the near future is bright as the Amerks appear to have all the key pieces in place to make a deep playoff run. For Buffalo Sabres fans there are also implications as this season will reveal more of the development of such players as Zemgus Girgensons, Brayden Mcnabb, Cody Hodgson and Marcus Foligno, who all appear to be in the position of becoming the young player core that will slowly eclipse the Sabres old, tired core group.
Yet, not only the Sabres are locked out, the whole league is. This means that the Syracuse Crunch, who are affiliated with the Tampa Bay Lightning also have a fuller, more experienced roster as well as the whole American Hockey League.
Friday night will be what home openers are to all teams in most sports, a test of team chemistry and the moment when all preseason speculation will be put aside and real evaluations of the team are made. Rochester split their two game preseason both by scores of 4-3 and both to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. They won the last of the two and hope to carry the momentum into Friday’s match up.
For Sabres fans who have not followed the Amerks in recent years, this is as good as any time to start. Rochester’s season is vital to the development of Buffalo’s young stars but on a more basic level, the AHL may satisfy a diehard Sabres fan’s hockey craving. There are some familiar faces on the team, some games will be played at the First Niagara Center and a handful of games will be aired on Time Warner Cable for Buffalo and surrounding areas.
The 2012-2013 AHL season could be the most exciting and intense year in recent memory. Buffalo Sabres supporters and Rochester Americans fans alike can get behind the team and support them throughout the year, starting Friday night in Rochester.