News | 5/8/2014 9:44:43 AM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS

Photo: Micheline Veluvolu

Seven players vying for Grand Prize in Belarus

Seven former Rochester Americans from five different countries will begin the quest for gold in hockey’s grandest spectacle at the 78th annual 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Minsk, Belarus. The premier international event kicks off on Friday, May 9 when France takes on the 24-time gold medal-winning Team Canada and Switzerland battles Russia in the first of four opening day matchups. The three-week tournament will conclude with the gold-medal game on Sunday, May 25.

Entering the tournament as one of the top favorites to take home gold, Team Canada features a powerhouse lineup with ties to 13 different NHL teams. Fifteen of the 20 players selected by Hockey Canada have previous international experience under their belt, including five players who have represented Canada at prior IIHF World Championships. Joining Canada in its bid for gold medal No. 25 is former defenseman Jason Garrison, who is primed to make his international debut after finishing the 2013-14 campaign with a career-high 26 assists and 33 points while appearing in all but one game with the Vancouver Canucks. Signed by the Florida Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2008, Garrison spent the first two years of his pro career in Rochester, where he recorded 54 points (11+43) in 113 career games. He also led all defensemen and finished second on the team in postseason scoring with nine points (2+7) in seven games during the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs. Garrison played four seasons in the Panthers organization, setting franchise records for single-season goals and power-play goals by a defenseman prior to signing a six-year deal with his hometown Canucks in July 2012.

Also skating alongside Garrison with the Team Canada is forward Cody Hodgson, whose brief, yet productive stint in Rochester during the first half of the 2012-13 season instantly turned him into a fan favorite. Hodgson, who previously won gold at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa and the 2008 U-18 World Championships in Kazan, registered 19 points (5+14) in just 19 games in his return to the American Hockey League while the NHL and its member clubs were in the midst of its second work stoppage in nine years. Hodgson began the season with the Amerks and amassed 10 points (1+9) through his first eight games before a hand injury sidelined him for the next 14. Hodgson made his return to the lineup on Dec. 15 and picked up right where he left off, notching nine points (4+5) over his final 10 contests leading up to the NHL resuming play in January 2013. Hodgson is a former first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 2008.

A native of Pelhrimov, Czech Republic, forward Jiri Novotny is in his seventh stint with the Czech national team, having been part of the IIHF World Championships in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and in again in 2013. After missing the event in 2009, Novotny returned to the mix in 2010 and guided the Czechs to their first gold medal since 2005. Novotny would contribute six points (1+5) in nine games, good enough for second most on the team, before adding bronze medals at both the 2011 and 2012 tournaments to collect medals in three straight events for the first time in his international career. After four consecutive seasons (2002-06) with the Amerks, Novotny, now captain of the Czech national team, left Rochester with 105 points (25+80) in 218 career games. In 2005-06, he finished as the team’s top point-getter with 54 points, collecting career-highs along the way in every offensive category in goals (17), assists (37), points (54) and games played (66) en route to being named the Amerks’ scoring champion.

Back for his second go-around on the international stage for the Czechs is goaltender Alexander Salak, who returned to the European professional leagues prior to the start of the 2012-13 season following a two-year stint in North America. In 2009-10 with the Amerks, Salak, signed as a free agent by the Florida Panthers, posted a 29-14-0 record to go along with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 48 regular-season appearances. Salak also manned the pipes for two games during the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs, going 0-1-0 with a 4.37 goals-against average and a .884 save percentage.

Most recently, the duo competed for the Czech Republic at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, helping the Czechs to a sixth-place finish after suffering a 5-2 loss to the United States in the quarterfinal round. Novotny was held scoreless while appearing in four of the five games and Salak made 26 saves on 28 shots to go along with a 1.71 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.

Zemgus Girgensons
and the Latvian the national team are set to make their 22nd straight appearance at the annual event. Since joining the circuit in 1993, Latvia has yet to medal or place higher than seventh in any year of competition, marking the longest period of futility of any IIHF sanctioned nation participating in the sport of hockey. Latvia, which also finished in eighth at the 2014 Winter Olympics, is coming off an 11th-place finish at last year’s tournament that featured the international debut of Girgensons, who went onto to record one goal in five games. A first-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres in 2012, the Riga, Latvia, played the 2012-13 season with the Amerks, scoring six goals and adding 11 assists for 17 points in 61 regular-season outings. Girgensons also led Rochester in scoring in the postseason, scoring a team-high three goals, before earning full-time status with the Sabres for the start of the 2013-14 campaign. Voted Rochester’s Most Improved Player, Girgensons also tallied two points (1+1) in five games at this year’s Winter Olympics.

Winners of the 2012 tournament, the Russians are in pursuit of their seventh medal in 10 years following a rather disappointing fifth-place finish at this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. Russia, however, has been one of the most dominant teams in recent years in the annual event, winning three of its four gold medals since 2008 and claiming five medals in all over that span. Looking to aid in Russia’s bounce-back performance is former Amerks forward Evgenii Dadonov, who becomes the latest to join Alexander Ovechkin and company’s quest at another championship. While new to Russia’s top national team, Dadonov is certainly no stranger to the international scene, having represented his country at both the 2009 and 2008 World Junior Championships as well as the 2007 U-18 World Junior Championships, medaling at all three events. In 100 career games in the red, white and blue, the Chelyabinsk, Russia, native collected 56 points on 25 goals and 31 assists. He posted his best season as an Amerk during the 2009-10 campaign, establishing career-highs in all offensive categories, including goals (17), assists (23) and points (40), to finish seventh on the team and 13th in scoring among AHL rookies. He also made his NHL debut that season when he appeared in four games for the Florida Panthers, whom he represented at the 2011 NHL SuperSkills as one of 12 rookies.

Headlining the list of Amerks Alumni participating in this year’s tournament is Buffalo-born goaltender David Leggio, who next to former Amerk Ryan Miller, is arguably one of the most well-known and successful netminders to ever come through Rochester. Leggio finished his career with the Amerks having appeared in 118 games while posting a 66-48-3 record with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. The two-time team MVP also earned six shutouts over his two seasons in Rochester while leading the AHL in saves in both years and taking the Amerks to consecutive playoff appearances. The 2012-13 campaign saw Leggio finish the regular season as the AHL’s leader in wins (38), saves (1,957), shots against (2,119), minutes played (3,800), and games played (64) while ranking fourth with a .924 save percentage. In addition, the Williamsville, N.Y, native also captured his third straight 20-win season and became the first Amerks netminder to post 30 wins in a single season since Ryan Miller’s incredible 41 victories during Rochester’s historic 2004-05 campaign. On March 27, 2013, Leggio steered aside all 38 shots for his fourth shutout of the season, matching the career-high he set during the 2008-09 campaign with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. Then, just three nights later in Hamilton, Leggio earned his 35th win of the season, marking just the seventh time in the franchise’s 58-year history that a Rochester goaltender has won at least 35 games in a season. He ended the season having set new AHL career-highs in all goaltending categories, including goals-against average (2.56), save percentage (.924), wins (38), saves (1,957), shutouts (4), minutes (3,800) and games played (64) and led all AHL netminders with a 9-1 shootout record. He also challenged the AHL record for saves in a season (2,005), established by Mike O’Neill with the Baltimore Bandits in 1995-96, but came up shy 48 saves. Leggio will serve alongside two-time Vezina Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion Tim Thomas and Connor Hellebuyck of the UMass-Lowell River Hawks (NCAA) as one of three goalies for the Americans.

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