News | 6/29/2011 3:06:50 PM | Rob Crean
A longtime relationship was rekindled on Wednesday as the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans announced the renewal of their affiliation during a press conference at The Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY.
With Sabres Owner Terry Pegula purchasing the Amerks from Curt Styres, the two franchises will begin the 2011-12 hockey season as affiliates for a 30th year following a brief three-year separation.
Joined at the press conference by Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier and President Ted Black, as well as by American Hockey League President and CEO Dave Andrews, Pegula told the media, fans and sponsors in attendance that Rochester is Buffalo’s desired destination as an AHL affiliate.
“I don’t like to consider this as leaving Portland. It wasn’t a necessity to leave Portland; we had a great thing going there. But, it was all about arriving in Rochester,” said Pegula. “Our plan is to make this franchise a shining star to develop our players, and we want to have successful teams, obviously.”
The Sabres ushered in a new era of their own earlier this year when Pegula purchased the team in February and took over as owner. Now, the Amerks will re-join the organization as Buffalo’s official American Hockey League affiliate, taking the place of the Portland Pirates, with whom the Sabres have partnered for the past three seasons.
The Sabres and Amerks were previously affiliated for 29 straight years, beginning in 1979-80 and running through the 2007-08 season, which was the longest working relationship between an NHL club and its affiliate during that time.
“This is a very special day for hockey in Rochester,” said Andrews, who helped facilitate the sale. “The Rochester Americans are one of the iconic franchises in this league…. This is big news for Sabres fans, for Rochester Americans fans and for the American Hockey League and the other 29 teams in the League.”
During the first 29 years of the affiliation, the Amerks captured three Calder Cup Championships (1983, 1987, 1996), advanced to six other Calder Cup Finals and secured a playoff berth 24 times. In that span, they also compiled a record of 1,137-932-238-13. The Amerks have been a member of the AHL for 56 years.
Regier, who will construct the Amerks’ roster, was thrilled to once again be affiliated with Rochester.
“This is an extremely exciting day for the Buffalo Sabres and myself,” he said. “It was a sad day when the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans stopped working together. This opportunity makes you recognize what we had – and we had a great thing, as Terry said, in Portland – but it makes you appreciate the opportunities that were lost and now are regained.”
As for what those opportunities include, Regier spoke of an increased focus on teaching players at the AHL level.
“This opportunity in Rochester for the Buffalo Sabres allows us to expand tremendously on our ability to teach and increase the level of learning, increase the level of proficiency of hockey players in our organization. Ultimately, this is about championships – championships here and championships in Buffalo. And it is with that vision that we’re moving forward with this relationship and I’m extremely excited about it.”
While the ability to teach will be a focal point, Regier said he also plans to bring in veteran players to help the club.
“We are allowed five veteran players and we had that in Portland, and they contribute tremendously to the growth of the younger players in demonstrating both on and off the ice what it takes to be a professional in virtually every aspect, and so it is very important to us,” said Regier. “I know this is what the people here in Rochester want to hear, and want the commitment from us more than anything else. We will have a very competitive hockey team in Rochester… We are committed to winning in Buffalo, committed to winning in Rochester.”
While Regier continues to oversee the hockey side, Sabres President Ted Black will serve the same role with the Amerks. Black said that Rob Kopacz, who previously served as Director of Marketing for the Sabres, will now be Vice President of Business Operations for the Amerks.
One of Black’s first orders of business was to announce that all Amerks season tickets for the 2011-12 season, at all seat locations, will be available for $10 per seat.
”We want to fill this building up. We know the fans here are committed. We also want to build a very good value, and we think that is probably one of the best values in sports,” he said.
Black also explained his vision for how the two teams will work together.
“It’s no secret we very much want to win a Stanley Cup for the Sabres Nation, and we consider Rochester to be very much in the heart of Sabres Nation, and we’re committed to doing whatever we can to win the Stanley Cup. In order to accomplish that goal, building a winning AHL franchise that develops players is a very key component, a very critical component,” Black said. “On the business side, we’re going to connect with and listen to our fans. We’ve done that very successfully in Buffalo and we certainly will do that here in Rochester,”
Black added that he intends to institute an online Suggestion Box for the Amerks the same way he did in Buffalo.
Pegula and Black thanked outgoing Amerks Owner Curt Styres and President Lewis Staats, Portland Pirates Owner Lyman Bullard and CEO Brian Petrovek, and Commissioner Andrews for all of their assistance in the purchasing process. They also welcomed Rochester Mayor Tom Richards and Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks to the press conference.
One of the next steps will be to hire a head coach for the Amerks. According to Regier, it is a coveted job in the hockey industry and he expects to begin interviews shortly.
“That is something that we’ll work on over the next few weeks. Certainly there are a lot of candidates who would love to be the head coach of the Rochester Americans. We’ll generate the list and begin the interview process over the next few weeks,” he said.
While the reunion of the Sabres and Amerks has been made official, Black views it as more than a typical NHL-AHL affiliation.
“This is one ‘Hockey Heaven.’ This is not an affiliation, this is a unification. Although there are two cities and to some extent two teams, there is one owner, and that’s a tremendous benefit,” Black said. “We have the best owner in sports. We are one market, we are one team and we have one vision.”