The Rochester Americans quest for a 7th Calder Cup begins on October 8th with an away date against the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Amerks, entering their 56th season, will kick things off at home on October 13th with a duel against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. The home date should be an exciting one, as the Sabres brass has sent out invitations to every Amerks alumni to take part in a pre-game celebration. Could Terry Pegula and Ted Black possibly be any more wonderful?
A multitude of players that competed in the recent Traverse City Prospects Tournament for the Sabres will be suiting up for the Amerks team this year. The fact that the prospects squad won the tournament bodes very well for the upcoming season, and over the next week we will be taking a position-by-position glance at some of the players that could potentially be on the team this year. For this first installment, we will begin by introducing the possible Centers:
DOB: June 18, 1990 (Age 21)
Framework: 6’2, 205 lbs.
Amerks jersey #: 39
Luke Adam, son of former Toronto Maple Leaf Russ Adam, was a 2nd round draft pick, 44th overall, by the Sabres in 2008. In juniors, he was almost a point-per-game player with 220 points in 236 QMJHL games. Adam has been developing at a very nice pace for the Sabres, posting 62 points en route to Rookie of the Year honors in the AHL last year, and earning himself 19 NHL appearances for Buffalo. Adam also played for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships in 2010, and his 8 points in 6 games helped them grab the Silver Medal. At the Prospects tournament this year, he was named MVP, playing phenomenally with line mates Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian.
He has already proven that he can excel at the AHL level, and he is bubble of making the Sabres this year. If he winds up with the Amerks, expect to see dominant play from Adam this season, especially if paired again with Foligno and Kassian – forming a line that could “FAK” up competition in the corners. Despite being given skates for his first birthday, and beginning his skating at the age of 2 on a backyard pond, the knock against Adam has typically been his skating ability. He spent time working hard this off season with a power skating coach, and watching him in the tournament and in preseason, it definitely shows. Often projected to be future third liner, he displayed tremendous skills and chemistry while paired with Thomas Vanek recently.
Adam prefers to pattern his play after Joe Thornton and Vincent Lecavalier. His game is far from flashy, but opponents assuredly take notice of his big frame battling in front of the net and in the corners, and he gets points on the board with his great hands, quick reflexes, and strong reaction time. A big Blink-182 fan, Adam is only a blink away from securing a permanent NHL job.
DOB: November 30, 1985 (Age 25)
Framework: 5’11, 186 lbs.
Amerks jersey #: 38
Can I buy a vowel please? Szczechura (pronounced Shea-hura), was originally drafted by Barrie in the OHL, but instead opted to play for Western Michigan in the NCAA, where he posted 130 points in 153 games. While at Western Michigan, Szczechura won the Catherine Lawson Sportsmanship Award. Since college, he has spent 5 seasons in the AHL, as well as 83 NHL games for the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 214 games between the Norfolk Admirals and Iowa Stars, Szczechura has posted up a very respectable 148 points.
A native of Brantford, ON, which happens to be the birthplace of Wayne Gretzky, Szczechura has been coached by Wayne’s father Walter in the past. Although he was never drafted by any NHL clubs, he is a very solid, two-way player. He has shown excellent puck pursuit, is great on faceoffs, and is more of a playmaker than a shooter. Former coaches have praised his intelligence, work ethic, skating, and most notably his commitment to playing both ends of the rink. From what I have seen, his play is relentless, with a motor that never stops, and his skill set is solid all-around. Potentially, he could fulfill an on-ice leadership role for the Amerks this season, and just might become a solid fourth-liner, penalty killer, and role-player in the NHL.
From his former coach at Western Michigan, Jim Culhane: “Paul is probably one of the smartest kids that I’ve coached at Western. He’s a playmaking centerman. He plays a lot of minutes as well as plays in the last minute of the game. He is a key contributor in all assignments for us and is willing to block shots. Paul is a very good student of the game. I think the biggest thing for him now is to grow as one of our leaders. He’s relied upon to do a lot of things for us as a team, and I think he’s well respected by his teammates. The questions that I do at times receive about Paul’s skating are, in my opinion, unwarranted. I think he’s a very fluid skater, and at times he is deceiving in how quick he can track down pucks and pursue pucks. He has a willingness to anticipate and read situations on the ice and puts himself in all key areas on the ice at the right times.” (courtesy of hockeysfuture.com)
DOB: July 7, 1986 (Age 25)
Framework: 6’0, 197 lbs.
Amerks jersey #: 11
The undrafted Turnbull, son of former Winnipeg Jet/ St. Louis Blue/Montreal Canadien Perry Turnbull, spent 4 years with the University Of Michigan Wolverines prior to signing an entry-level contract with the Sabres in 2009. He helped Michigan win the CCHA Championship in 2007-08, and was selected to the Great Lakes All-Tournament team twice.
Turnbull has spent the last 2 seasons in the AHL with Portland, but missed the initial 59 games of last season with a shoulder injury. Besides having a feisty last name, Turnbull is a gritty, grinding, hardworking player, and is also quite speedy for his size. He will outwork opponents along the boards and in corners, and is a solid addition for the Amerks. Being a huge Will Ferrell fan isn’t bad either.
DOB: December 4, 1990 (Age 20)
Framework: 5’10, 187 lbs.
Amerks jersey #: 22
No, this is not a Skid Row drummer. This Phil Varone was a 5th round draft pick of the Sharks in 2009. Varone began playing in the OHL at only 16 years old, and in 4 seasons he amassed 230 points in 228 games. Varone will be an interesting player to watch, as his upside could be tremendous. Some scouting reports projected him to be drafted much higher than the 5th round, but he was knocked for his size. We have all seen the things the Sabres have been able to do in recent years for players lacking in the size department, so this could be a worthwhile addition.
Reports on Varone indicate that he is the type of player that really elevates his play during playoffs and those crucial late moments in games. This USA Today article claims Varone even outplayed John Tavares in the 2009 OHL playoffs. A scouting report from the Sharks tells us that Varone was “A solid contributor throughout his OHL career. Had a great season with the Otters this year, playing a discipline, two-way game while still managing to put up top notch numbers. What he lacks in height, he makes up in speed and hard work. He is known as an ultimate playoff performer, which is why he was unsurprisingly one of the Otters best players in the 2011 post-season, racking up 3 goals and 10 assists in 7 games. Varone is an energy-type forward, so his ceiling of potential at the NHL level could be full-time duty as a third or fourth liner.”
Phil Varone is unquestionably a player we should be keeping our eyes on with the Amerks this season.
DOB: April 6, 1984 (Age 27)
Framework: 6’0, 182 lbs.
Amerks jersey #: 27
Voakes spent 4 seasons with Wilfrid Laurier University from 2005-2009, where he posted a nice 154 points in 102 games. As a senior, he claimed the 2008-09 Ontario University Athletics West MVP award and won the Laurier’s Presidents Award for 2009 Most Outstanding Male Athlete. From there, he spent some time in the ECHL, and ended up finishing last season with Portland, contributing solidly with 8 points in 10 playoff games.
Voakes is another player that pushes his game to the next level when it comes playoff time. He has taken quite a long road thus far, finally earning an AHL contract this year, which appears to be well deserved. His personal perseverance should be an indicator of how he conducts his play on the ice. I also learned that he has done numerous volunteer work for children’s charities, including Boys and Girls Clubs, Children’s Hunger Alliance, and Hockey Players For Kids. A community guy like Mark will be great, not only for the Amerks, but for the city of Rochester.