For the Rochester Americans home opener on Thursday night, 9,217 people showed up. 50 Amerks Alumni, including the likes of Jody Gage, Rob Ray, Scott Metcalfe, Geordie Robertson, Richie Dunn, Donald Audette, and others, showed up. Unfortunately, the current version of the Amerks did not.
The opening festivities were highlighted by the announcement of 3-time Calder Cup Amerks coach Joe Crozier being inducted into the AHL Hall Of Fame. The appearance of “The Crow” drew a much extended, 4-minute standing ovation for the 82-year old from the Rochester faithful. Speeches by Ted Black and Terry Pegula, and footage on the big screen from the Amerks glory days only further riled up the crowd.
Jonathan Parker won the opening faceoff, and from that point on, the momentum slowly slid downhill. The opening forward line featured Parker being flanked by veterans Michael Ryan and Colin Stuart. The opening defensive pairing was Shaone Morrisson (pronounced at intros by Don Stevens as Shane!) and T.J. Brennan. The other top forward lines were Marcus Foligno-Phil Varone-Corey Tropp, and Zack Kassian-Mark Voakes-Derek Whitmore, with the other defense pairings of Brayden McNabb-Alex Biega and Joe Finley-Nick Crawford.
In the opening period, McNabb showed his size and grit by laying on 2 very nice checks against the Penguins. Kassian spent much of the period antagonizing and pestering Eric Tangradi. Finley, despite his size, was showing excellent mobility and made a few nice passes. Brennan and Morrisson had a communication lapse deep in the Amerks end, which led to Tangradi being all alone in front of the net, and goaltender Drew McIntyre hung out to dry – Penguins up 1-0. Later, Morrisson missed on a point blank shot in the slot, followed shortly by the Penguins getting their second goal on an excellent screen shot by Streit at the point. The Amerks were passing far too much, albeit most of the passes were sloppy, and not on the tape. I would say that they need to shoot more, but for some odd reason, there is nowhere in Blue Cross Arena where you can see the shot count!
In the second period, the obvious lack of rhythm between the Amerks players continued. Foligno and Tropp became more noticeable, as they stepped up their physical play on most of their shifts. McNabb also laid out his third nice hit of the night. On up-ice rushes, Biega was showing excellent speed and was slick with the puck, penetrating the Penguins zone with ease multiple times. T.J. Brennan laid out the hit of the night, right in front of an “INJURED? Call Cellino & Barnes” sign in front of the benches. Following this hit, the Amerks began to play inspired. On an ensuing Amerks power play, the Pens accidentally cleared the puck into the penalty box, creating a 5 on 3. The Amerks favor was tipped even further when one of the Pens lost their lumber in the mayhem. Jumbo Joe Finley rushed in from the point to screen the goalie, and T.J. Brennan starting blasting shot after shot from the point, with Kassian and Foligno on either side of the goalie to clean up any scraps. Unfortunately, Kassian bobbled a pass as he moved towards the slot – leading to a Pens shorthanded goal on the 5 on 2.5. The Amerks faithful at this point began to lose their faith. The period was closed out by Tropp misplaying a pass while he was open on the doorstep of the goal, and Stuart being unable to control a bouncing puck on a great opportunity on the last rush of the period.
The Amerks play did not improve much in the 3rd stanza. More sloppy passing was followed up by Brennan blowing coverage on a Pens forward, allowing an easy tap-in on McIntyre. Travis Turnbull showed his tenacity, by trying to get involved in 2 fights – both were ended prematurely by the refs. Fans behind me yelled some very unsavory comments to the refs, as they wanted to see some action other than what the Pens were providing. One of the fight breakups made way for the moment of the night, as Turnbull punched a ref in the face for jumping in too soon. Late in the period, Turnbull sent a nice pass to Kassian in the neutral zone, and Kassian dumped the puck in, and chased after it himself. He made a nice play to outwork the defensemen, and fed the puck to Foligno, who was speeding into the slot. Foligno quickly deposited the puck high into the top corner, for the first professional goal of his career. Less than half the crowd remained to see this moment.
The Amerks lost this one decisively, 5-1. It was summarized by Foligno after the game quite simply: “Losing sucks.”
- In juniors, Kassian was a monster. Throwing the body everywhere, fighting, and lighting the lamp. He is clearly considered one of the Sabres top prospects. Does one of the 3 R’s (Ruff, Rolston, Regier) have him on a leash? He was mostly invisible for the night, aside from outworking the defensemen a few times, and setting up Foligno’s goal.
- Will the current centers be able to get the job done this year? The Amerks definitely have talent and promise on this roster, but there was a clear cut lack of playmaking abilities on the lines.
- Why are Foligno and Kassian not skating together? They showed good chemistry in Traverse City and in preseason. The only couple times they were on the ice together, they combined for a goal, and nearly scored on a power play.
- T.J. Brennan, in my opinion, looked like he would be the one to call up, if a rash of injuries struck the Sabres. He did make a few costly mistakes in this game, but his overall game was the best of the Amerks defensemen. He was hitting, moving the puck decently, and was taking rocket shots on the power play.
- It is obvious that Morrisson does not belong in the AHL, as he looked like a man against boys, but he also did not show much effort in this game. He can’t fit into the Sabres current cap if they needed a call-up, but he also didn’t play as if he was too interested in showing the brass that he deserves his spot on the Sabres back. He would best serve an NHL team that needs him.