News | 9/26/2011 5:01:25 PM | Warren Kosel

Photo: Micheline Veluvolu

The Rochester Americans took the ice for the first time of the 2011-12 American Hockey League season as training camp officially opened up at the downtown Blue Cross Arena. Despite Day 1 seeing just 19 skaters on the ice and short a goaltender, new Amerks head coach Ron Rolston said it was still a very productive day for his new team and coaching staff.

“It was good to get back here in Rochester and get the guys on the ice together,” said Rolston, who officially made his AHL coaching debut this afternoon. “We have guys that are meeting each other for the first time and playing with new gear, but I thought it was a pretty good practice considering the numbers we had today.”

Rolston was of course referring to the “lack of player presence” on the ice, but the Amerks were forced to wait for some to clear waivers while others were sidelined with preseason injuries. That issue will be resolved for Day 2 on Tuesday, however, as the Sabres have reassigned 14 more players to Rochester. Among the newest arrivals to the Amerks include forwards Marcus Foligno, Zack Kassian and Michael Ryan and goaltender Drew MacIntyre.

Though just having enough players to hold an effective practice, opening day of camp featured the homecoming of Rochester’s own Derek Whitmore, who made his professional debut with the Amerks at the end of the 2007-08 season. After playing the last three seasons in Portland, including a career-year in 2010-11 that saw him pot 27 goals, Whitmore is excited about the chance to return and pick up where it all started.

“It’s great being back here and it’s a great place to play hockey,” said Whitmore, a lifelong resident from the town of Greece. “I grew up watching the Amerks play, I had the opportunity to start my career here and now I have the honor and privilege of being part of the organization again.”

“I know Derek is happy to be back and being the only local product on the team also brings some personal value for him,” added Rolston. “He’s a veteran for us and the kind of guy who comes to work every day. Derek is a true professional, who puts up numbers and scores goals, and he’ll be somebody we look to on a nightly basis to generate offense for us. I know he’s excited about the season and looking for a big year.”

Defenseman T.J. Brennan took the ice for his first time as an Amerk, but he saw it as an opportunity to be reunited with several players he shared the ice with during his first two seasons in Portland. According to Brennan, it was a simple case of the “same team playing in a different city.”

“I was here for a few games my first year as a pro playing against Rochester and there’s a lot of history here and there’s a lot of buzz going around town,” said Brennan, who was one of seven defensemen on the ice this afternoon. “I’m excited for the new opportunity here and for the season to get started.”

The added bonus for Brennan and his fellow blueliners of being an Amerk this time around is the easy commute to and from the big club. What took him nine hours to do in the past to reach Buffalo is now just a simple 75-mile drive west down the thruway. That alone is something to be excited for.

“I came in this morning with McNabb (Brayden McNabb) and it was just a quick one-hour drive rather nine hours to Portland,” said Brennan. “Hopefully I’ll be making that drive to and from Buffalo often this season,” said Brennan, hinting toward playing as many games he can with the Sabres in 2011-12.

The first half of practice had the players engaging each other in 1-on-1 drills before moving onto a series of skill-building and systems play, similar to what they would expect in game-like situations. The latter part of practice featured Rolston and his staff dividing the team amongst their positions for individual attention.

It was also the first opportunity for Rolston and his staff to get a glimpse of what to expect this season and really evaluate the talent in order to return the Amerks to elite status in the American Hockey League.

“It’s really exciting to be here and I know the players are as equally excited coming from Portland to start fresh with a new opportunity,” said Rolston. “It seems that’s the overall attitude going around town right now. We certainly we want to have an exciting team and I think we will.”

• Practice for Day 2 will begin at 1:00 p.m. at The Blue Cross Arena
• 14 additional players will join the Amerks on Tuesday following their assignments to Rochester
• According to the Sabres, goaltender Drew MacIntyre, defenseman Dennis Persson, and forward Michael Ryan and Colin Stuart have each been assigned pending waivers