News | 1/3/2012 5:12:59 PM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS

Photo: Micheline Veluvolu

WEEKLY NOTES: As the second half of the 2011-12 American Hockey League season is set to kickoff this weekend, several of the league’s 30 teams, including the Rochester Americans, are bringing a renewed outlook heading into the New Year. The Amerks, who have spent the better part of a month occupying second place in the AHL’s North Division, come into 2012 still in the hunt for divisional supremacy, needing all but two wins in order to launch themselves atop the standings. Fresh off its recent four-game winning streak that saw it best the league’s top team on consecutive nights, Rochester must now turns its attention to a rather busy first weekend of the New Year that has the Amerks playing three games in as many nights on the road and all of which are against East Division opponents. Looking ahead, the Amerks, with wins in four of their last five games, take to the road this weekend as they close out their season series with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, pay another visit to the defending champs in Binghamton and restore the AHL’s longest-standing rivalry in Hershey.

Tuesday, Dec. 27 @ Oklahoma City – W, 4-3…
Rochester Americans defenseman Drew Schiestel scored 3:21 into overtime on the power-play to lift the Amerks to a 4-3 win over the league-leading Oklahoma City Barons in the first-ever meeting between the teams at the Cox Convention Center. The game featured the return of forwards Paul Szczechura and Derek Whitmore, who both skated in their first game back with the Amerks after a recent NHL stint with the Buffalo Sabres. Szczechura, who last played with Rochester on December 4, made an immediate impact, helping the Amerks build a 2-1 lead through the first 20 minutes and then scoring the game-tying goal midway through the third period that would force overtime. In addition to Szczechura’s first three-point game of the season and Schiestel’s heroic game-winner, defenseman Alex Biega also scored for the Amerks while six different players recorded points. Drew MacIntyre steered aside 27 of 30 shots to earn his sixth win of the campaign.

Wednesday, Dec. 28 @ Oklahoma City – W, 4-3… The Amerks extended their winning streak to four games by defeating the Oklahoma City Barons 4-3 in a shootout. The win was Rochester’s second in as many nights over the AHL’s top team. Defenseman T.J. Brennan opened the scoring for Rochester in the first period and closed out the game by netting the shootout-winning goal in the sixth round. Jacob Lagace scored two goals on the night while Phil Varone and Marcus Foligno each collected two assists. Goaltender David Leggio made 22 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping four of six shootout attempts to earn the win in goal.

Friday, Dec. 30 vs. Hamilton – L, 5-4… A season-high crowd of 9,771 watched the Rochester Americans close out the 2011 calendar year with a 5-4 loss against the North Division rival Hamilton Bulldogs at The Blue Cross Arena. Despite the loss, which snapped Rochester’s four-game winning streak, the Amerks remain in second place in the American Hockey League North Division standings with a 15-13-4-1 record. Mark Voakes, Whitmore and Szczechura each contributed a goal and an assist, while both MacIntyre and Leggio combined to make 25 saves, including 11 from Leggio in just over 19 minutes of relief work.

SABRES RETURN TROPP TO ROCHESTER: Re-joining the Amerks this week is forward Corey Tropp, who was officially reassigned to Rochester over the weekend after earning his third NHL recall from the Buffalo Sabres on December 3. Currently in his second professional season, Tropp, 23, has appeared in 13 games with the Sabres this season, scoring one goal and adding one assist to go along with 11 penalty minutes. In 12 American Hockey League contests with Rochester this year, the 6-foot-0, 185-pound forward has recorded seven points (4+3) and 16 penalty minutes. A native of Grosse Point Woods, Michigan, Tropp was Buffalo’s third-round selection (89th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS: Rochester ushers in the New Year with a three-game road swing, beginning on Friday, January 6 when it travels to Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza to take on the East Division Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The 7:05 p.m. contest will be the second and final meeting this season between the two teams and can be heard live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. The Pens spoiled the Amerks’ home-opener with a 5-1 win over Rochester in the teams’ only other get-together earlier this season back on October 13 at The Blue Cross Arena. Foligno’s first professional goal would prove to be the lone tally of the contest for the Amerks, who also saw a 16-save effort by MacIntyre in his first game between the pipes as an Amerk. The Amerks are 12-13-6 all-time against the Baby Pens.

The Amerks head to the Southern Tier the following night to exchange pleasantries with the defending Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators on Saturday, January 7 at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. The 7:05 p.m. matchup will be the fourth of eight encounters between the intrastate rivals this season and will be carried live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. Rochester shows a 2-1-0-0 record this season against the B-Sens, which includes wins in the last two meetings with Binghamton, the most recent being a 3-1 home victory on November 11. The Amerks, however, are 33-36-6 lifetime against the B-Sens.

The oldest rivalry in the American Hockey League will be renewed on Sunday, January 8 as Rochester collides with the Hershey Bears at Giant Center in the first of two gatherings between the league’s oldest teams this season. The 5:00 p.m. contest marks the 443rd regular season meeting in league history between the AHL’s cornerstone franchises and will be broadcast live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. The Amerks are 184-205-53 all-time against the Bears after splitting the 2010-11 season series with a 2-2-0-0 mark with Hershey.

UPCOMING PROMOTIONS: Rochester returns home to host the North Division rival Toronto Marlies on Friday, January 13 at 7:35 p.m. at The Blue Cross Arena. Friday’s contest falls on the next installment of the “Ditch the Dorms” night. Beginning this season, the Amerks are encouraging all college students to “Ditch the Dorms” on Friday nights and bring the party downtown for Amerks College Nights. Current students who show a valid school ID can get best available seating anywhere in the arena for as low as $10.00. In conjunction with Savor Catering at The Blue Cross Arena, fans can take part in the “Amerks Happy Hour” from 6:30-7:30 in the Upper Atrium Bar with $2.00 drafts, courtesy of Molson and Coors Light.

Fans can receive special discounted tickets for showing their true colors on Saturday, January 14 when the Hamilton Bulldogs come to town. The game features the third “Hockey Night in Rochester” promotion of the season. For all Saturday home games for the rest of year, fans that show up sporting either an Amerks or Sabres jersey can purchase $12.00 tickets from The Blue Cross Arena Box Office for best available seating.

AMERKS NOTES: Rochester (15-13-4-1, 35 points) enters the week coming off its 5-4 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs in its final home game of 2011 before the turn of the New Year. The loss snapped a season-high four-game winning streak for the Amerks, who used back-to-back wins over league-leading Oklahoma City this past week to move within four points of the Toronto Marlies for the top spot in the American Hockey League’s North Division standings. The Amerks, who also won four straight from November 6 to November 16 earlier this year, enter 2012 with points in seven of their last 10 games (5-3-2-0) and own the second-best winning percentage (.530) among division rivals. Rochester also comes into the New Year as one of the least penalized teams in the AHL and is just one of seven clubs to have fewer than 500 penalty minutes.

RANKIN’ AMONG THE BEST: Evan Rankin, who signed a pro tryout with the Amerks on November 25, has produced at nearly a point-per-game pace since joining the team, recording 12 points (7+5) in 13 games after beginning the season with Toledo (ECHL). With several of the Amerks’ top scorer’s shuttling back and forth between Rochester and the Buffalo Sabres, Rankin’s 12 points are tops on the team since November 25. During his tenure with the Amerks, Rankin has been held scoreless just five times and has contributed four multi-point games. His seven goals already rank him tied for fourth on the club.

WHO’S HOT: Despite currently being on NHL recall with Buffalo, Brennan enters the week riding a career-best seven-game point streak (3+5) after earning an assist in the 5-4 loss to Hamilton on Friday. Last season, he notched a point in five straight games for the Portland Pirates from March 18-25. In his last nine games in an Amerks sweater, a span that includes a previous recall to Buffalo and an injury absence, Brennan has registered 11 points on five goals and six assists. Varone is also on a four-game point streak (1+4) after scoring a goal over the weekend, while showing 10 points (2+8) in as many games. Meanwhile, Biega boasts four points (2+2) over his last six appearances and Whitmore has five points (2+3) in his last four games with the Amerks since making his NHL debut for the Sabres. Schiestel, who scored the overtime game-winner last Tuesday in Oklahoma City, is also enjoying his first point streak of the season with four points (1+3) over his last three games.

TEAM AND LEAGUE LEADERS: Coming off his two-point game against Hamilton on Friday, Whitmore remains Rochester’s top point-getter with a team-high 14 goals and 23 points, in addition to a team-best 110 shots on goal. His 14 goals rank him tied for 12th among the AHL’s top goal scorers as the Rochester native has now scored nine goals in his last 15 games. He also ranks ninth in the AHL in shots on goal. With four assists through his last four games, Varone’s team-high 14 assists are also equal to that of Voakes, whose two-point (1+1) effort on Saturday propelled him to second on the team in scoring with 18 points (4+14), while his team-best +12 rating ranks tied for 10th in the AHL. He is also one of just two Amerks players to appear in all 33 games thus far along with Varone. Joe Finley leads the Amerks with 71 penalty minutes, good enough for third among league rookies in that category.

SHARING THE CREASE: Leggio, who has posted a 9-8-0 record with a 2.91 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage in 17 games, ranks tied for 16th among AHL netminders in wins. MacIntyre, who’s started nine of the last 12 games for Rochester, shows a 6-9-1 record with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage in 17 games between the pipes and is 20th among league backstops with 477 saves. The duo has also played close to 1,000 minutes while each has allowed 48 goals thus far this season.

BY THE NUMBERS: The Amerks are 6-6-2-1 (15 points) this season against North Division rivals, but show a 9-7-2-0 (20 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. The third period has been the Amerks’ strong suit thus far as the club has accounted for 29 goals while allowing 24. The Amerks have scored the first goal in just 16 of the first 33 games of the campaign and show a 9-6-1-0 record when doing so, including a 6-2-0-0 mark at home. Rochester is also 8-0-1-0 when leading after two periods, a streak that also shows an unblemished 5-0-0-0 mark at home.

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: Thirteen of the last 21 games for the Amerks have been decided by one goal, including nine of the last 16. Of Rochester’s 33 games thus far this season, 18 of them have been determined by a one-goal difference, nine of which were settled either in overtime or via the shootout, for a 7-6-4-1 mark.

HOME, SWEET HOME: Home-ice advantage has certainly been a factor in Rochester’s recent success as the Amerks are 7-3-0-0 in their last 10 games at home. After beginning the season with just two home wins, the Amerks show a 10-5-0-1 record (21 points) this season when playing in their downtown barn. Conversely, Rochester is 5-8-4-0 (14 points) away from the friendly confines of The Blue Cross Arena.

THE ROAD ‘MORE’ TRAVELED: The reunion between the Buffalo Sabres and Amerks not only restored hockey’s longest NHL-AHL affiliation, but it made the commute for those fortunate enough to earn a recall to Buffalo almost effortless to get there. The Amerks have seen 10 different players over 17 total recalls make the 75-mile trek west down Interstate 90, including several on game day.  In addition to the most recent call-ups, Brennan, Whitmore and Foligno, the Sabres have also required the services of MacIntyre, Tropp, Szczechura, Finley, and forwards Zack Kassian and Colin Stuart, who along with  defenseman Brayden McNabb, remain with Buffalo.

SPECIAL TEAMS BREAKDOWN: The Amerks have gone 17-for-100 (17.0%) on the power play over their last 20 games, including 2-for-8 in Saturday’s loss to Hamilton. On the penalty kill, Rochester has successfully killed off 111-of-139 (79.9%) shorthanded situations, including 61 of 72 at home for an 84.7% efficiency rate, good for the league’s ninth-best rating in that category. As a team, Rochester has allowed a league-most seven shorthanded goals against, four coming at home and the other three on the road. 

MILESTONE WATCH: MacIntyre is a mere two wins short of 50 AHL victories while Rankin is four points shy of 200 professional points and six assists away from 100 assists. Back for a second stint with the Amerks, veteran forward Michael Ryan is just two games away from his 400th professional game, 214 of which have been played in Rochester. A month removed from skating in his 500th professional game, Stuart is on the verge of yet another personal milestone, needing just 11 more points for 200 in his AHL career. Szczechura needs just five more assists to reach the century mark in his AHL career while Maxime Legault is five games short of 100 AHL outings.

THIS WEEK IN AMERKS HISTORY: Exactly 20 years ago today, former Amerk Peter Ciavaglia scores the game-winning goal in a 4-2 win over the Baltimore Skipjacks in Baltimore to give the Rochester Americans their 1,300th win in franchise history. On January 6, 2005, Derek Roy’s lone goal in a 1-0 win at Edmonton gives Rochester win No. 1,800 as the Amerks finished the regular season with a league-best 51-19-4-6 record (112 points) en route to earning the MacGregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the regular season points champion.

DAY                                         TIME                                        LOCATION
Monday, January 2                 10:30 a.m. practice                 Sports Centre at MCC
                                               6:30 p.m. reading                   Pittsford Public Library
Tuesday, January 3                 10:30 a.m. practice                 Sports Centre at MCC
Wednesday, January 4            10:30 a.m. practice                 Sports Centre at MCC
                                               6:30 p.m. reading                   Henrietta Public Library
Thursday, January 5                10:30 a.m. practice                 Sports Centre at MCC
                                               Leave for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the afternoon
Friday, January 6                     11:15 a.m. gameday skate     Mohegan Sun Arena
                                               7:05 p.m. @ Wilkes-Barre     Mohegan Sun Arena
                                               Leave for Binghamton immediately following game
Saturday, January 7                11:15 a.m. gameday skate     Broome County Veterans Arena
                                               7:05 p.m. @ Binghamton      Broome County Veterans Arena
                                               Leave for Hershey immediately following game
Sunday, January 8                   5:00 p.m. @ Hershey             Giant Center             
*schedule subject to change

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