They were reunited last year, and now the partnership between the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans is entering its 31st season of professional hockey.
Since originally joining forces in 1979, the two teams have formed one of the longest – and most successful – relationships between an NHL team and its AHL affiliate. After spending three years with the Portland Pirates from 2008-11, the Sabres renewed their affiliation with Rochester before the 2011-12 season. Sabres owner Terry Pegula officially purchased the Americans on June 24, 2011.
In a combined 30 years of affiliation, Rochester has compiled a record of 1,173-958-248-17 (.545) in 2,396 regular season games and captured nine regular season titles. During that period, the Amerks have captured three Calder Cup Championships (1983, 1987 and 1996) and have advanced to the Calder Cup Finals six times.
The Amerks are entering their 57th season in the American Hockey League and the team will once again be an essential pipeline for future Sabres stars. The current Sabres roster is filled with nine former Amerks, including Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford. Of the 30 skaters that took to the ice for the Sabres during the 2011-12 season, 14 had spent time in Rochester at some point in their careers.
It was during the 1979-80 campaign that the two organizations first formed a professional hockey partnership. Billy Inglis was the first head coach of the Amerks during the affiliation. Future coaches would include Mike Keenan, Joe Crozier, Jim Schoenfeld, Don Lever, John Van Boxmeer, John Tortorella, Brian McCutcheon and Randy Cunneyworth. Both Keenan (New York Rangers, 1994) and Tortorella (Tampa Bay Lightning, 2004) went on to coach NHL teams to Stanley Cup victories. Crozier leads all coaches in Amerks history with three Calder Cup titles (1964-65, 1965-66 and 1967-68). Keenan, Van Boxmeer and Tortorella each have one to their credit.
One of the most recognizable names in franchise history is Don Cherry. Currently the host of Coach’s Corner on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry both played and coached for the Amerks. Cherry amassed 118 points in a seven-year playing career that spanned 390 games from 1963-69 and 1971-72. He became a player/coach midway through the 1971-72 season, before taking over full-time as head coach from 1972-74. Cherry compiled a record of 91-70-30 behind the Rochester bench, and was named the AHL’s Coach of the Year in 1973-74.
When it comes to the modern era, nobody is more synonymous with Rochester hockey than Jody Gage. Dubbed “Mr. Amerk” during his 11-year career in Rochester, Gage finished as the franchise’s all-time leader in goals, assists, points and games played. He holds the Rochester record for game-winning goals in one season (9, 1987-88) and goals/points by a right wing in one season (60/104, 1987-88).
Gage is one of just three players to record 500 career AHL goals and 1,000 career AHL points, and his 17 AHL seasons tie him for third in league history. Some of his other AHL accolades include the 1987-88 AHL MVP award and a berth on the First Team All-Star squad. He also earned AHL First Team All-Star honors following the 1985-86 and 1990-91 seasons, a place on the AHL’s All-Time Team in 1992 and selection as the U.S. Team Captain for the AHL All-Star Game in 1995. Gage also holds AHL records for the two fastest short-handed goals in one game (8 seconds, 3/25/89), the most 40+ goal seasons (7), and the most playoff goals (51) in AHL history.
In 1999, Gage was inducted into the Amerks Hall of Fame. On March 19, 1999, Gage and Dick Gamble had their No. 9 retired, joining Norm “Red” Armstrong as the only players in team history to receive that honor. Gage has worked in the Amerks’ front office since 1995, and is currently the team’s Director of Strategic Planning. The role is Gage’s fourth within the organization, having previously served as Assistant General Manager, General Manager and Director of Player Personnel.
Besides the Sabres, the Amerks have been affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens (1956-59), Toronto Maple Leafs (1956-68), Vancouver Canucks (1968-72), Boston Bruins (1974-79) and Florida Panthers (2005-11). The Amerks also served as an independent team from 1972-74.