(Photo: Melissa Kania)

Pre-Game Primer: Rochester Americans vs. Grand Rapids Griffins

The Rochester Americans open the 2013-2014 AHL season this evening, hosting the Grand Rapids Griffins at 7:05 p.m. at the Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester.

Tonight’s matchup between the Rochester Americans and the Griffins opens the seasons for both teams, on the first day of the American Hockey League season schedule. This will be the first of four meetings between the teams. They’ll play a pair of games in Grand Rapids on December 6 and 7 before returning to play the Amerks on February 8 in a special game at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

Tonight’s game will surely be a challenge, as the Griffins are the reigning Calder Cup Champions.

Last season was Grand Rapids’ first in the Midwest Division. The team ended the regular season with a record of 42-26-4-4, earning 92 points on the season. They topped the Midwest Division and went on to eventually win the Calder Cup. The Griffins defeated the Houston Aeros in five games in the quarterfinals, dropped the Toronto Marlies in six games in the semifinals, and defeated the Oklahoma City Barons in seven games to make it to the Calder Cup finals, where they defeated Syracuse, four games to two.

The Rochester Americans finished last season second in the North Division, with a record of 43-29-3-1 and 90 points. Of course, the Amerks had to face the Toronto Marlies in the first round of the playoffs, and were subsequently eliminated in three games.

The Amerks have seen some upheaval in their roster since last season, including the departure of goaltender David Leggio. Matt Hackett is seemingly set to be the main goaltender for the Amerks this year, with Nathan Lieuwen, Connor Knapp and Andrey Makarov waiting in the wings.

Hackett spent part of last season with the AHL’s Houston Aeros, appearing in 43 games for the Aeros. He also played one game with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild before being traded to the Sabres organization. He appeared in three games with Rochester last season, winning all three and carrying a .955 save percentage and 1.62 GAA.

Captain Matt Ellis returns for his first full season in Rochester. Other returning players include center Phil Varone, forwards Jonathan Parker and Shawn Szydlowski and defensemen including Matt Mackenzie and Nick Crawford.

Departures include Evan Rankin (Syracuse), Rick Schofield (international), and a number of players up to the Buffalo Sabres: Mark Pysyk, Brian Flynn, Kevin Porter, Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson, to name a few.

Of course, with the departures, there will be a few new faces on the ice for the Amerks as they open the season, including Dan Catenacci, who appeared in a few games for Rochester at the end of last season but is now entering his first full AHL season. Colin Jacobs (of the WHL’s Prince George Cougars), Alexander Sulzer (of the Buffalo Sabres), Tim Schaller and Jamie Tardif are just a few of the new additions this year.

Other notable additions to the Amerks squad are defenseman Drew Bagnall and forward Mike Zigomanis, who will both wear the “A”s this year for the Rochester Americans. Bagnall, 29, spent last season with the AHL’s Houston Aeros. He had one goal and five assists and 88 penalty minutes in 47 regular season games. Zigomanis, 32, spent last season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, where he had 35 points (7-28) in 65 regular season games.

One player who won’t be on the ice tonight for the Amerks is forward Eric Locke, who was on a tryout with the team for training camp and the preseason but was returned to the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit to play another season there.

The Rochester Americans and Grand Rapids Griffins faced each other twice last season, with each team winning its respective home game. The Amerks won the first meeting of the year, a 4-3 regulation win on October 19 in Rochester. T.J. Brennan, Brian Flynn, Marcus Foligno and Phil Varone scored for the Amerks, while David Leggio stopped 30 of 33 shots faced. For Grand Rapids, goals came from Triston Grant, Tomas Jurco and Landon Ferraro. Jordan Pearce was in net for the Griffins, stopping 26 of 30 shots faced.

The final meeting of the season came exactly two months later, in Grand Rapids. The Griffins came out on top, 4-2, thanks to goals from Francis Pare, Jef Hoggan, Joakin Andersson and Luke Glendening. Brennan and Varone scored for Rochester, and Connor Knapp had 28 saves in the loss. Griffins goaltender Petr Mrazek stopped 19 of 21 shots faced.

Before tonight’s game, be sure to check out our Rochester Americans season preview to get an idea of just what’s coming during the 2013-2014 AHL season.

You can purchase tickets for tonight’s Amerks vs. Griffins tilt here.

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