By Ryan J. Harr
The Rochester Americans opened the 2017-18 season with a weekend sweep over the Syracuse Crunch, who are the reinging Eastern Conference champions. The Amerks kicked off the home portion of the season with a 3-1 win Friday night at The Blue Cross Arena followed by a 3-2 overtime victory Saturday evening in Syracuse.
After the opening week, the Amerks are tied for first in the North Division with four points while sharing the top spot in entire league with five other teams.
“It was a great start to the season,” said Chris Taylor, who recorded his first two victories as head coach. “I was pleased with the group’s effort over the weekend. They stuck with the game plan in both nights. There were times when we had to weather the storm a bit and we did that while our goaltending was outstanding against a good hockey team.”
Newcomers Playing Huge Roles
Through two games, the Amerks have two different players record two game-winning goals, two goaltenders earn their first wins of the season in the blue paint and a total of five different players have lit the lamp.
Excluding Justin Bailey’s two goals on Opening Night and Kevin Porter’s overtime-winning goal Saturday night, Steve Moses, Kyle Criscuolo and rookie C.J. Smith all found the back of the net over the weekend for their first tallies as an Amerk.
WATCH: KYLE CRISCUOLO POST-PRACTICE
“Scoring a goal and getting points early with a new team is important not only for me personally, but it is big for my confidence as well,” Criscuolo said when discussing his goal and assist.
The second-year pro, who inked a two-year, two-way deal with the Buffalo Sabres over the summer, attributes his success to his linemates of Smith and Moses rather than himself.
“While I did get on the scoresheet in each game, playing with two players like Moses and ‘Smitty’, you can see the plays they were able to make and they make playing the game pretty simple. One thing when playing with those two guys, you just have to capitalize on the opportunities. I think the three of us have really gelled early on this season.”
In addition to the players above who scored their first goals as an Amerk, defenseman Zach Redmond bagged an assist in each of his first two games with Rochester after being acquired earlier in the week. The 29-year old blueliner is tied for sixth in points amongst the league defenseman.
Smith comes into the weekend tied for fourth in scoring among AHL rookies with three points (1+2) through his first two games with the Amerks. After notching an assist on Friday, Smith concluded the weekend by scoring his first pro goal to go along with an assist for his first multi-point effort in Saturday’s rematch against the Crunch.
“It felt good to get the first goal out of the way and help the team win,” Smith said. “Two wins in two games are obviously pretty big but we still have some details we need to continue to improve on and we are trying to accomplish that this week.”
WATCH: C.J. SMITH POST-PRACTICE
Amerks Accept Gionta With Open Arms
Earlier this week, Amerks general manager Randy Sexton announced that Brian Gionta had been invited to practice with the team for an extended period of time in preparation for international play. On Tuesday, the 38-year-old Rochester native took the ice with the Amerks players and coaches and made an immediate impact on some of the younger players.
“It’s awesome to skate with a player like ‘Gio’,” said Smith. “My first-career NHL game I was on a line with Brian and that was pretty special. Not many players get to practice with such an experienced player and a leader like him, and I plan to take full advantage of it.”
In addition to Smith, longtime friend and Amerks defenseman Nathan Paetsch was thrilled to have the former Stanley Cup champion join the Rochester practice.
“It is awesome because we have worked out together for nearly 10 years,” Paetsch said. “Brian and I are very close. I was glad he reached out to the Amerks. I think he can help the young players here in Rochester because not only is he a great professional player, he is a great human being to be around. To have him around is just a bonus for our hockey team.”
WATCH: NATHAN PAETSCH POST-PRACTICE
Looking Ahead to the Weekend
The Amerks return to action Friday Oct. 13 as they host the Utica Comets at The Blue Cross Arena and will look for their third straight win to begin the season for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign. The contest will have a 7:05 p.m. opening puck drop and will be carried live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester.