Prior to Friday night’s contest against the Toronto Marlies, the Rochester Americans inducted former goaltender Darcy Wakaluk and defenseman Rick Pagnutti into the Amerks Hall of Fame, as the pair became the 51st and 52nd members of the exclusive club as selected by the Rochester Americans Hall of Fame Selection Committee. The two were highlighted in a video montage during a pregame ceremony on the ice before addressing the crowd of 5,853 fans inside The Blue Cross Arena.
Wakaluk, a native of Pincher Creek, Alberta, is just the fourth goaltender to be inducted into the Amerks Hall of Fame in the 56-year history of the franchise, joining Bobby Perreault, Gerry Cheevers and Jacques Cloutier.
“I think as every second goes by, it’s hitting me a little harder,” he said. “When I played the game, I played with a lot of passion and emotion, and to have something like this bestowed on me is very humbling and certainly not anything I ever expected. This franchise is truly amazing. The city, the fans and the organization are truly second-to-none.”
In parts of five seasons with the Amerks from 1986-87 to 1990-91, Wakaluk appeared in 181 games while posting a record of 81-57-13 with a 3.36 goals-against average, a .884 save percentage and seven shutouts. His 81 wins rank fifth all-time in franchise history.
In 36 playoff games, Wakaluk finished with an outstanding 21-12 record. During the team’s run to the Calder Cup championship in 1987, Wakaluk won both games in which he started while appearing in five games. In 1989-90, Wakaluk posted a record of 31-16-4 to set a career-high for wins while also ranking fifth in the AHL with a 3.35 goals-against average. The following season, he shared the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award, given annually to the AHL’s outstanding goaltenders, with teammate David Littman as Wakaluk ranked second among AHL netminders with a 2.99 goals against average.
Aside from his stellar record between the pipes for the Amerks, Wakaluk even contributed offensively and is perhaps best remembered for becoming the first goaltender in North American professional hockey to score a goal by shooting the puck into the net during a game against the Utica Devils on Dec. 5, 1987. Just three days later, Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ron Hextall repeated the feat, becoming the first National Hockey League netminder to score a goal. Wakaluk owns the Amerks franchise record for most career points by a goalie with one goal and 16 assists.
“I had way too many memories over my career to get into them all, but certainly winning the Calder Cup my first year in Rochester and seeing what a hockey city this is and how truly passionate the fans are, it truly inspired me. Scoring the goal was something very special as well to be the first goalie to do it before Hextall did,” Wakaluk acknowledged.
Pagnutti, a native of Sudbury, Ontario, and the No. 1 overall pick in the 1967 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings, spent four seasons with the Amerks from 1972-73 to 1975-76 and appeared in 278 games.
“I got a call from Jody Gage and he told me that I had been elected into the Hall of Fame,” said Pagnutti. “At 65 years of age, you kind of think that you are forgotten, so this is a big day for me. I will be the fourth guy from Sudbury in the Amerks Hall of Fame, You’ve got Al Arbour, Jimmy Hofford, Jimmy Pappin and myself.”
When he left Rochester after the 1975-76 campaign, he was the franchise’s all-time highest scoring defenseman with 194 points on 45 goals and 149 assists. Since then, only one Amerks defenseman – Don McSween – has scored more career points in a Rochester uniform than Pagnutti, who notched more than 50 points in three of his four seasons. Just the 12th defenseman to be inducted into the Amerks Hall of Fame, Pagnutti is also one of only seven Rochester blue-liners to be named to multiple AHL All-Star teams. In addition, his 18 goals during the 1972-73 season remains the highest single-season total by a defenseman in franchise history.
“I was here four years and I can just think of the Don Cherry era with the eight thousand fans in the rink,” he said as he reflected on his time in the Flower City.
When asked to recall his best memories as an Amerk, Pagnutti cited these years of being an AHL All-Star as some of his most unforgettable. “From a personal point that was a big achievement,” he claimed. “Team-wise, the year that we beat the Nova Scotia Voyagers sticks out in my mind. They had a power-house team and I think seven players that went on to play for the Montreal Canadiens. ”
For each of the new Amerks Hall of Famers, the trip to Rochester brought back a wave of emotions and memories, making it a night that will not be soon forgotten.