Twenty-nine seconds into the game, fans still filing into the arena and the score already at 1-0. Not the start that any team hopes for, especially against one of the best offensive teams in the league. The Texas Stars entered Sunday's contest with 192 goals scored so far this season, the best power-play in the league and two of the AHL’s leading goal-scorers. Quite an impressive resume, and they were living up to it.
By the time the buzzer sounded to end the first period, the Stars had taken a 3-0 lead over Rochester, sending the Amerks into their locker room with quite a bit to think about.
“We came back in the room and said ‘what do we want to be known for, what type of team do we want to be’,” Amerks captain Drew Bagnall said. “Do we want to come together or pull apart?”
“We got to own it, we got to own what we want to be. If we were going to curl up and not come back out and get ourselves back in the hockey game, then that’s what we’re going to be,” Amerks head coach Chadd Cassidy said. “But if we want to be like we talk about, the team we talk about, everybody’s got to be accountable, everybody’s got to do their job and execute.”
And whether it was these inspiring words from their captain or their coach, the team heard the message loud and clear, and responded.
The production began with a goal by Phil Varone off a pass from Luke Adam, a line pairing recently reunited upon Varone’s return from the Buffalo Sabres for the Olympic break. His addition back to the team would certainly be noticed by the end of the night.
This first goal lit a spark within the team and broke the seal of Texas goaltender Josh Robinson, who would allow three goals before the end of the second period.
Despite mounting a three-goal effort in the second, the Amerks still entered the third period down one, but thanks to the line of Dan Catenacci, Joel Armia and Colton Gillies, that didn’t last long.
“The Catenacci line I thought was the difference in the hockey game,” Cassidy said. “They gave us some really good shifts and gave us good energy tonight. They got us going in the game, momentum wise, and got us back into it.”
With Gillies tying the game up at four goals apiece just three minutes into the third period, the team was forced to battle defensively to fend off any more offensive production from Texas. Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen, despite posting a tough start to the game, was rock solid in the final two periods, coming up big when his team needed him.
“Really happy for Nathan,” Cassidy said. “He was able to park that first period and really came up big in the second and obviously made some huge saves in the third period to keep us close and keep the game tied.”
With the game headed into sudden death overtime, one was the magic number. All the team needed was one pass, one goal and one hero. That pass came from Bagnall and that hero was none other than Varone.
“It’s a character win, it’s against the best team in the league, they’re the best team for a reason,” Varone said. “We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could play with these guys.”
“I think that it tells us that we can compete with any team in the league,” said Bagnall of the win. “If we play our game, were going to have a good chance of winning every night. No matter what happens in games, you have to stick to what your process is and what your team identity is.”
The team made a statement. They proved to themselves and their fans that they could do more than just compete with the best teams – they could beat them.