By Warren Kosel
The official start of the 2016-17 American Hockey League season finally arrived Saturday for the Rochester Americans as 22 players hit the ice at HarborCenter for Day One of Amerks Training Camp.
The day began with the parent Buffalo Sabres assigning 17 players to the Amerks, and while many of its top line forwards and defensive corps remain with the NHL club, Rochester’s opening day roster featured a good mix of 15 forwards, five defensemen and a pair of goaltenders, both of whom are under contract for this season. The morning session proved to be a productive one for the group with the youngsters and seasoned veterans alike turning in a high-intensity 80-minute workout that new Amerks head coach Dan Lambert and his staff used to further familiarize players with the organization’s systems while taking a closer look at the first-year prospects projected to make their professional debuts in Rochester this season.
Lambert, along with his assistants Chuck Weber, Brad Tapper, Bob Janosz and Sabres development coach Adam Mair, also spent the morning introducing the players to special teams tactics as well as putting them through a series of rigorous skating drills specifically designed to determine adequate levels of speed and fitness. Overall, Lambert was pleased with the effort put in and hopes the team will build on it as the week progresses.
“I thought it was a good first day. I thought the players worked hard,” said Lambert afterwards. “I thought the compete level was good, the attention to detail was pretty good and I thought we got a little better than we were yesterday.”
Saturday’s practice was also the first official day for Lambert in his new role. Lambert spent all of last season as an assistant coach for the Sabres under Dan Bylsma’s staff and was the leading voice at Buffalo’s annual rookie development camp and prospects challenge earlier this summer.
Having that prior experience in working with the players, many of whom were on the ice Saturday, in addition to spending the season before with the Sabres, allowed a much smoother transition for Lambert coming into training camp. Lambert admitted there was a mutual level of comfort between he and the players, but also noted how excited he was to have the opportunity to work with players new to the organization.
“Obviously with development camp, rookie camp and last season being in Buffalo, I do know and have relationships with most of the players here. The guys here on tryouts and those types of guys, we’re all getting to know each other, but I think it’s important for them to get a feel for how I do things as well.
The message was clear from the start: work ethic wasn’t to go unnoticed. With the regular season just two weeks away, roster spots are up for the taking and it’s simply a matter of who’s going to take advantage of the opportunities during the week-long camp leading into this week’s home-and-home series against the Binghamton Senators.
“It’s more about letting the guys know what’s expected,” said Lambert. “It’s important for guys to know the system of each team throughout the organization and ask them to be the best of who they are and what they can do. It’s their time to show what they have to offer the team and do what they can to move onto the next level.”
While Lambert said it’s still too early to tell where the strengths of the team lie, he predicts based on the number of returning players as well as the influx of new talent the focal point this season will be on increased offensive production. In the meantime, however, Lambert’s main focus over these next few weeks will be about unification and establishing a team identity.
“I’m obviously looking forward to getting started, but I think I’m more anxious to get our team together,” said Lambert. “I think that’s going to be the important part is to come together as a team and to establish an identity of how we’re going to play the game of hockey this year.”
THE WEEK AHEAD
The Amerks will remain at HarborCenter for the duration of camp leading up to this week’s home-and-home series with the Binghamton Senators. All practice sessions begin at 10:00 a.m. and are free and open to the public.
TRAINING CAMP NOTES
Among the 22 players on Rochester’s opening day roster, 10 played at least one game with the Amerks last season … In addition to those 10 players, rookie defenseman Brycen Martin has also suited up for the Amerks in past seasons … Forwards Justin Bailey, Cole Schneider, Evan Rodrigues and Dan Catenacci – all of whom made their NHL debuts last season with the Buffalo Sabres – are coming off impressive seasons with the Amerks in 2015-16 … Schneider and Catenacci are pending waivers, and should they clear, can begin skating Monday … Currently under contract with the Elmira Jackals and an ECHL All-Star with the Brampton Beast in 2014-15, Tyson Fawcett headlines a list of five invitees in this year’s camp.
PRESEASON BEGINS THIS WEEK
The Rochester Americans will open their 2016 preseason slate on Thursday, Oct. 6 when they host the intrastate rival Binghamton Senators at 7:05 p.m. in the first leg of a home-and-home series at HarborCenter.. The Amerks will conclude their preseason schedule as the two-game set shifts to the southern tier for Game 2 against the B-Sens on Saturday, Oct. 8 at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena. All tickets for the exhibition game will be reserved seating and are available for $10 each. Tickets can be purchased at tickets.com, through amerks.com, at the First Niagara Center Box Office or at the Amerks Main Office at The Blue Cross Arena. Amerks Season Ticket Members can purchase their tickets to the game for $5.
HOME OPENER SET FOR FRIDAY, OCT. 14
The Amerks will open their historic 61st American Hockey League season – and 35th as the primary affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres – at 7:05 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14 against the Hershey Bears. The Opening Night matchup will mark the 451st all-time meeting between the AHL’s two oldest teams. The last time Rochester and Hershey met in a season-opening matchup was in 2010-11 as part of the AHL’s 75th-aniversary celebration. This season, the Amerks remain in the North Division of the Eastern Conference and will play 52 of their 76 regular-season games against divisional opponents.