When the Rochester Americans took the ice for a recent practice, they found themselves in a bit of an unfamiliar setting as the team skated at the First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo. With the parent club Buffalo Sabres in Montreal for a game against the Canadiens to wrap up a brief two-game road swing, the Amerks took the opportunity to skate within the confines of the vacant facility.
To the Rochester players, however, First Niagara Center represents much more than just a considerably larger building than The Blue Cross Arena. It’s a place where each and every one of them hopes to call home sometime in the near future.
While rookies like Brayden McNabb, Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno have skated there before in training camp – and for Kassian and Foligno, during the 2011 World Junior Championship – it was still special, especially as it was their first opportunity to use the fully renovated dressing room and training facilities.
“It was nice, especially since it was my first time seeing it,” said McNabb of the new locker room following practice. “The arena is unreal when you take a look around. It is very high quality and you feel what it’s like to be in the NHL.”
Kassian and Foligno echoed the comments of their fellow first-year teammate.
“I think it gives everyone a little extra motivation,” Kassian said. “We have a nice facility in Rochester, but this is state of the art and freshly renovated so it definitely gives fuel to the belly to make you want to get here one day.”
“It is motivation for us to want to be a part of this,” said Foligno. “Obviously there is Rochester and developing down there, but to come here and be able to practice on this ice and be in this dressing room, it’s exciting.”
Having the luxury of being less than 90 miles away from their NHL affiliate is one that not many teams in the American Hockey League are able to enjoy. In addition to being able to practice on the NHL rink, the players also have the occasional chance to watch games in person. A group of players recently attended the Sabres’ 6-5 overtime win over Winnipeg last week.
“It’s going to help the development process, that’s for sure,” Foligno said when asked what specific things such a short proximity can do. “It’s not far for us to come watch an NHL game and see how certain guys play. It makes for a good learning curve and is a little easier traveling if you get called up instead of a four hour flight or something like that. We are really lucky and thankful to have this Rochester-Buffalo connection.”
“A lot of organizations don’t get a chance to do things like this,” Kassian added. “With us being in Rochester only about an hour away, it is great that we are able to come down and participate in going to games.”
McNabb agreed that the aforementioned advantages can be crucial for younger players.
“It’s huge,” he said. “If you have questions, there are a lot of guys you can go to with experience who have been there. It’s also nice to be able to come right down here and check things out to see how good it really is. (Buffalo) is a first-class organization and you just hope that one day you can be a part of it.”