By Ryan J. Harr
As the days of the week are rolling by, the Rochester Americans are continuing their preparation for the 62nd season of professional hockey at The Blue Cross Arena.
Three days into his first training camp as head coach of the Amerks, Chris Taylor has been installing his schemes and strategies to the players participating in the week-long camp, which will conclude Saturday, Sept. 30 following the second exhibition contest with the Toronto Marlies at the HarborCenter in Buffalo at 7:05 p.m. Along with Taylor’s assistant coaches, Toby Petersen and Gord Dineen, the trio have been pleased with the overall effort from the 30-player squad.
“So far, three days into camp, I have been very happy with everything,” said Taylor. “I have been pleased with the guys as they have come to work each day. My assistant coaches and I are trying to prepare the players for how we want to play the two exhibition games this weekend and the rest of the season.”
Old Faces Return to Rochester
Much of the discussion heading into this training camp for the Amerks has been of the return of former team captain, Kevin Porter, along with veteran defenseman Nathan Paetsch.
Porter served as captain of the Amerks during the 2012-13 and 13-14 seasons both of which made the Calder Cup Playoffs. After his departure following the 2014 slate, Porter spent the last two seasons with Pittsburgh Penguins organization and won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins.
Paetsch, meanwhile, returns to Rochester for his third stint with the red, white, and blue after he helped the Grand Rapids Griffins to five straight playoff appearances from 2012-17 and was a part of two AHL championships, including the 2017 Calder Cup. The 34-year-old defenseman comes back to Rochester after appearing in 72 games during the 2005-06 season and nine more contests in 2010-11.
Both of the veterans will help look to share their leadership abilities pushing the Amerks into a playoff contender and end a three-year post-season drought.
“I believe that is part of my job now to teach these young guys and move them along to the National Hockey League,” said Paetsch. “It is something I am looking forward to really embracing this year. I have learned a lot of things and been in some really unique situations in addition to being on some really good hockey teams where we were fortune to appear in the Calder Cup Playoffs.”
WATCH: AMERKS GM RANDY SEXTON SPEAKS WITH THE ROCHESTER MEDIA AFTER DAY ONE OF TRAINING CAMP
Depth on Defense
The Amerks have 10 different defensemen eyeing to solidify themselves into the six available positions on the team’s opening night roster that is now just eight days away. Four of those blueliners appeared in at least one game with the Amerks last season, but Casey Nelson headlines that group as he skated in 58 games. Meanwhile, Brycen Martin (18), Brendan Guhle (6) and Anthony Florentino (5) all combined to tally two points (1+1) during the 2016-17 campaign. Guhle, 20, is the youngest amongst the defensive corps, but is one of the highly anticipated prospects and is motivated to make some noise at the crowded position.
“I think heading into this season, we have a lot of players looking to crack the roster,” Guhle said. “I also believe when there is lot of competition, it not only makes each better, but it helps the team."
Coach Taylor also echoes the statement made by the young Guhle but says that he and his assistants are enjoying the depth they currently have.
“We have a lot of defensemen on our roster right now and that is what it is all about. It is about building depth and having internal competition. It is one of my tasks to make sure everyone is pushing each other and making one another better because sometimes injuries can occur and therefore the depth in the organization is good.”
Four Goaltenders, One Crease
In addition to the depth at the defense position, the goaltending competition is pretty hot three days into training camp. Last season, Linus Ullmark managed the blue paint for the Amerks for a league-high 55 games and 3,202 minutes. The Swedish netminder was named as the team’s Most Valuable Player, but currently he is in own battle eyeing to make the Buffalo Sabres roster with Chad Johnson and Robin Lehner, both of whom have over 135 NHL games to their resumes.
The Amerks have four goaltenders on their training camp roster, all but one of which are under contract for this season. Jonas Johansson and Jason Kasdorf each had brief stints with Rochester during the 2016-17 slate while Adam Wilcox and Anthony Peters are also coming off productive seasons of their own. Wilcox, who signed a one-year, two-way NHL contract with the Sabres on July 1, looks to improve from a career-best 25-13-5 record between the Springfield Thunderbird and Syracuse Crunch. Peters, meanwhile, played 51 games in-between the pipes for the Florida Everblades.
With the four goaltenders in the Amerks camp, Johansson is glad to be back with a team after the summer months.
“During the summer months back home in Sweden, it was a learning experience because in the Swedish Elite League, you train and workout with most, if not your entire team. Since I am obviously a member of the Sabres organization, I had to take the responsibility to push myself and workout. I am glad to be back competing with other players because nothing is free in this league, so I must be atop my game each and every day.”
First Taste into the League
Over the course of the 2016-17 season, 47 different players dressed for Rochester, and 16 were rookies. One-third of the Amerks training camp roster this season includes players who either made their NHL or AHL debuts last season. Guhle and C.J. Smith each made their debuts with the Sabres while Johansson, Kasdorf, Florentino, Justin Danforth, Vaclav Karabacek, Alex Kile, Hudson Fasching, Casey Nelson, Daniel Muzito-Bagenda and Colin Blackwell all made AHL debuts.
WATCH: C.J. SMITH SPEAKS WITH THE ROCHESTER MEDIA
Johansson appeared in seven contests with the Amerks towards the end of the last season but thinks it can help him heading into the season.
“Playing in those games last year was big for me. I was able to get accustomed to the pace of the game and find out how good the players are here in the AHL, so it feels good to have that experience even though it was just a small simple.”
Preseason Begins Friday
The Amerks open their 2017 preseason schedule on Friday, Sept. 29 with the first of back-to-back meetings against the Toronto Marlies at the Gene Polisseni Center on the campus of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Game time is slated for 7:05 p.m.
All tickets for the game will be General Admission and will be available for purchase for just $5 at the Polisseni Center Box Office, online at www.amerks.com and www.rithockey.com, or at the Amerks Main Office located at The Blue Cross Arena. RIT students can purchase tickets for $3 while all Amerks and RIT Season Ticket Members will receive complimentary tickets to the game.
Training camp will officially come to a close on Saturday, Sept. 30 as the same two teams meet again for a 7:05 p.m. rematch at HarborCenter in Buffalo. Tickets for the second game of the weekend are available for $10 each for General Admission seating with $5 tickets available for all Amerks and Buffalo Sabres Season Ticket Members. Tickets can be purchased at www.tickets.com, through www.amerks.com, at the KeyBank Center Box Office or the Amerks Office.
Practice schedule for remainder of the week
Thursday, Sept. 28
Group A Practice Session at 10:00 a.m. (Blue Cross Arena)
Group B Practice Session at 11:15 a.m. (Blue Cross Arena)
Friday, Sept. 29
Morning Skate at 10:00 a.m. (Blue Cross Arena)
Home Preseason Game vs. Toronto Marlies at 7:05 p.m. (Gene Polisseni Center at RIT)
Saturday, Sept. 30
Morning Skate at 10:00 a.m. (Blue Cross Arena)
Home Preseason Game vs. Toronto Marlies at 7:05 p.m. (HarborCenter)
Home Opener set for Friday, Oct. 6
Rochester begins its 62nd season in the American Hockey League on Friday, Oct. 6 against the Syracuse Crunch at The Blue Cross Arena. Amerks Season Ticket Memberships for the 2017-18 campaign, which start as low as just $12 per game, are on-sale now. The Amerks are also offering a variety of partial plans, including Half-Season Memberships and Flex Season Memberships with vouchers good for best available seating to any home game. All memberships are up to 40% off Box Office day of game pricing. For more information, visit www.amerks.com/seasontickets or call 1-855-GO-AMERKS.