By: Ryan J. Harr
Burgdoerfer’s Big Break: Of the 16 different players to be recalled to the Buffalo Sabres this season from the Rochester Americans, defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer was among those fortunate enough to make the trek to the National Hockey League. The seven-year pro received his first-ever NHL recall to the Sabres on Dec. 5 and made his NHL debut later that night, logging 10:03 of ice time in a 3-2 overtime loss at Washington. The recall was just a week shy of his 28th birthday and after he played 429 career combined games in the minors, including 272 in the ECHL. Throughout the 2016-17 season with the Amerks, Burgdoerfer regularly served as an alternate captain and was Rochester’s nomination for the Fred T. Hunt Award.
Hey Now, You Are All-Stars: In late January, the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Capital BlueCross took place Jan. 29-30 at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pa. Representing Rochester was goaltender Linus Ullmark and forwards Justin Bailey and Cole Schneider. The All-Star Class was the first for the three players and they did not disappoint. Ullmark was named the CCM Top Goaltender with 15 total saves in three goaltending events at the 2017 AHL All-Star Skills Competition while Schneider won the Giant Food Stores/Velaspan Accuracy Shooting event after hitting four targets on five attempts in the All-Star Skills Competition. Bailey, meanwhile, posted the third-best time during CCM Fastest Skater event with a time of 13.788 and led the North Division All-Stars with four points (2+2) and a plus/minus rating of plus-four in the 2017 AHL All-Star Challenge.
Austin and Nylander Shine In The Show: In addition to Burgdoerfer, defenseman Brady Austin also made his NHL debut during the 2016-17 campaign. Austin, Buffalo’s seventh-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, earned his first recall to the big club March 19 and made his NHL debut two days later in Buffalo’s 2-1 win at Detroit. Austin recorded three shots on goal over 15:37 of ice time while becoming the 94th AHL player this season to make his NHL debut. The contest was also his 200th professional game. Austin appeared in a total of five games this season for the Sabres, recording eight shots on goal and averaging 16 minutes of ice time. Amerks rookie forward Alexander Nylander also made his highly-anticipated debut in the NHL after being drafted eighth overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Sabres. The 19-year-old was recalled to Sabres on April 2 and played later that night against his older brother, William, of the Toronto Maple Leafs. During his four-game NHL stint, Rochester’s Rookie of the Year notched his first NHL point in the Sabres regular season finale against the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 9 and averaged just over 12 minutes of ice time.
Sabres Rookie of the Year: After beginning and then ending the season in Rochester, Evan Rodrigues enjoyed a stellar second professional season. The Boston University product was recalled five times throughout the year and skated in career-high 30 games with the Sabres. The 23-year-old forward collected six points while with Buffalo, including a pair of goals in back-to-back games February 25-26, and was named Sabres Rookie of the Year. In 48 games with the Amerks, he posted 30 points (9+21) and had a career-best five-game point streak (3+4) from Dec. 26 to Jan. 6.
Short Seasons In Rochester: After signing a one-year, two-way NHL contract as a free agent with the Sabres during the summer of 2016, Justin Falk made his debut with the Amerks on October 14. However, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound veteran defenseman was recalled to Buffalo in mid-November and never returned to Rochester. Falk registered his first point as a Sabre with an assist in a 6-3 win over Los Angeles on December 13 and played in a career-high 52 games with the big club while notching a total of eight helpers, which tied a personal-best. In addition to Falk, William Carrier spent majority of the season in Buffalo after spending parts of the last two seasons with the Amerks. The 22-year-old forward played in seven games this season with Rochester before earning his first-career recall on Nov. 4. He later scored his first NHL goal against Marc-Andre Fleury in Buffalo’s 2-1 shootout win over the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 19. In 41 games with the Sabres during the 2016-17 campaign, the LaSalle, Quebec, native totaled eight points (5+3). Also joining Falk and Carrier in Buffalo for an extended period was defenseman Taylor Fedun. The 28-year-old blueliner signed a one-year, two-way NHL contract as a free agent with Buffalo over the summer but began the slate in Rochester. Fedun was recalled three different times over the season, chipping in with seven assists and appearing in a career-high 27 games with the Sabres. In 29 games with the Amerks, the highly offensive defenseman totaled 23 points (5+23). In Rochester’s 5-2 win over the Hartford Wolf Pack on Nov. 11, Fedun tallied a career-high four points (1+3), including a Gordie Howe hat trick, and had a plus/minus rating of plus-two.
Linus Led The Way: Second-year Amerks goaltender Linus Ullmark appeared in a career-high 55 games to lead all AHL goalies. He also established personal-highs in saves (1,525), shots-against (1,678), and minutes played (3,201), all of which paced netminders in the league. Ullmark was just one of five AHL goaltenders this season and the first Amerks netminder since former team MVP David Leggio to appear in 50 or more games in the same season. The Former Swedish Goalie of the Year and Ontario Reign’s Jack Campbell were the only two at their position with more than 3,000 minutes played this season. Rochester’s Team MVP finished the season with a record of 26-27-3 with his 26 wins tying him for seventh among netminders. In Rochester’s 2-0 win versus the Springfield Thunderbirds on March 26, Ullmark posted his first AHL shutout after stopping all 28 shots he faced. Then, just five days later, he tied an AHL season-high with 51 saves in a 5-2 win over Utica on Mar. 31, the most since a career-best 51-save effort at Syracuse on Feb. 20, 2016.
Lambo The Bench Leader: After being named the 31st head coach in Rochester Americans history franchise history on May 16, 2016, Dan Lambert earned his first pro coaching victory after leading his team to a 5-4 win over the Hershey Bears as the Amerks opened their 61st AHL season on Oct. 14. Lambert, who spent the 2015-16 season as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres, notched his 25th career AHL win as head coach in Rochester’s 4-3 overtime comeback victory versus the Springfield on March 24. The St. Malo, Manitoba, native helped guide the Amerks to a season-long four-game win streak from March 24 through March 31, in addition to helping the team to an 8-4-0-1 record to close out the final 13 games of the 2016-17 campaign.
Working Overtime: Despite tying the Toronto Marlies for the fewest overtime games this season, the Amerks were one of the most effective teams during the three-on-three bonus hockey session. Overall in the 10 games that went beyond regulation, the Amerks finished with a perfect 6-0 record and went 1-3 in the shootout (16 points), ranking second in the AHL with a .700 win percentage. During the 2015-16 season, Rochester played a total of 13 games that went beyond regulation, and boasted a 6-3 mark in overtime while going 3-1 in shootouts (22 points) to finish fourth in the AHL with a .692 win percentage.
Making A ‘Grant’ Entrance: Veteran forward Derek Grant began the season by recoding just four assists and 24 PIM in 46 games between the Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators. The 26-year-old forward eventually made his way to Rochester on Feb. 24 and made an immediate impact, picking up a goal to go with his three assists in his first 10 games in an Amerks uniform. Grant totaled eight points (6+2) over a season-long four-game point streak from March 24 to March 31, including his first career hat trick by scoring in each period in his first game back in Binghamton while being a +2 in a 5-4 Amerks win on March 25. Grant went on to finish the season with 15 points (10+5) over his final 13 games, ranking 10th among all Amerks forwards with 19 points (11+8) in 23 appearances for Rochester.
Lots of Ink: This season, the Amerks signed a total of 16 players that did not include recalls or reassignments. Six of the moves were signing of players to Amateur Tryouts, including Ian Brady, Troy Crema, Justin Danforth (signed three times), Anthony Florentino and Alexandre Goulet. The remaining 10 were signed to Professional Tryouts, which included the likes of Mike Aviani, Eric Baier, Kyle Bonis, Jordan Henry, Alex Kile, Jonas Johansson, Bobby Shea, Brady Vail, and Justin Vaive. Patrick Mullen and Vaive were signed to a standard player’s contract.
Holding The Power At The BCA: The Amerks penalty kill unit closed out the season at The Blue Cross allowing just two goals while shorthanded in their last 12 games. Dating back to March 3, Rochester went 35-for-37 (94.5%). In Rochester’s last four wins on home ice to conclude the 2016-17 campaign, the Amerks scored five goals in each contest, outscoring their opponents 20-8. Additionally, in the last seven wins at The Blue Cross Arena, the Amerks went 9-for-35 (25.7%) with the man-advantage.
The Streak Continues: Nick Baptiste became the first of three Rochester skaters to hit the 20-goal plateau with the final goal in 4-3 defeat to the Syracuse Crunch on Feb. 25. Cole Schneider joined the 20-goal mark with his overtime winning goal 4:16 into the extra session to give the Amerks their 25th win of the campaign on March 24. With his third-period goal, Justin Bailey tallied his 20th goal of the year in a 5-2 win over Utica on March 31, becoming the first Amerk to reach the mark in back-to-back seasons since Mark Mancari (2006-07, 2007-08). Prior to this season, the last time the Amerks had three 20-goal scorers in the same season was 2009-10. In doing so, the Amerks have now had at least one player in 60 of the previous 61 years since the team’s inception in 1956 to score 20 or more goals, a streak that was sparked by Bronco Horvath’s team-leading 37 tallies during Rochester’ inaugural 1956-57 season. The 2014-15 campaign remains the only season in the 61-year history of the franchise that failed to produce a 20-goal scorer.
Road To Buffalo: As mentioned, a total of 16 different players played in both Rochester and Buffalo this season: Brady Austin, Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Erik Burgdoerfer, William Carrier, Justin Falk, Hudson Fasching, Taylor Fedun, Derek Grant, Brenden Guhle, Casey Nelson, Alexander Nylander, Cal O’Reilly, Evan Rodrigues, Cole Schneider, and Linus Ullmark.
By The Numbers: The Amerks finished with a 23-26-0-3 (49 points) record this season against North Division rivals and showed a 9-15-0-3 (18 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. The Amerks scored the first goal in 33 of their 76 games and boasted a 16-16-0-1 record when doing so, including an 11-10-0-1 mark at home. Rochester was also 26-2-0-1 when leading after two periods, a streak that also came with a near-perfect 15-1-0-1 mark at home.