News | 3/7/2012 3:40:17 PM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS

Photo: Micheline Veluvolu

WEEKLY NOTES: Another busy weekend in the books, but yet another successful weekend for the Rochester Americans, whose playoff hopes got bit brighter after claiming four out of a possible six points and earning a two-game sweep of the North Division-leading Toronto Marlies. The surging Amerks have won five of their last six games entering the new week and have gained some ground in what is shaping up to be a tight race to the finish in the Western Conference standings. On tap for the Amerks is a weekend set against the defending Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators, a team Rochester has fared well against this season and will see four times over the next two weeks.

Friday, Mar. 2 @ Grand Rapids – L, 4-3…
The Grand Rapids Griffins rode a three-goal third period en route to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Rochester Americans at Van Andel Arena on Friday night, snapping the Amerks’ three-game winning streak. Colin Stuart (0+2) and Phil Varone (0+2) chipped in two assists apiece for Rochester, while Luke Adam scored his first goal as an Amerk in the loss. Defensemen Brayden McNabb (1+0) and T.J. Brennan (1+0) rounded out the scoring behind a 28-save effort from goaltender David Leggio.

Saturday, Mar. 3 @ Toronto – W, 2-1… A power-play goal off the stick of veteran forward Paul Szczechura midway through the third period helped the Amerks skate to a 2-1 victory in the first of back-to-back meetings with the first-place Toronto Marlies on Saturday evening at Ricoh Coliseum. Evan Rankin also scored for the Amerks in Saturday’s win while Varone, Stuart and McNabb each collected an assist. David Leggio’s performance earned him first star honors, as he turned away 21 of 22 shots for his 19th win of the season and earned an assist on Szczechura’s game-winning goal.

Sunday, Mar. 4 vs. Toronto – W, 3-2… The home-and-home series between the North Division rivals shifted back to Rochester on Sunday, where the Amerks rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Marlies 3-2 in a shootout at The Blue Cross Arena. The victory completed the home-and-home sweep for Rochester and moved them into seventh place in the Western Conference standings with 65 points. It also marked Rochester’s fifth win in the last six games. Leggio produced another stellar effort between the pipes for the Amerks in his sixth straight start, turning aside 33 of 35 shots in addition to denying all five Toronto shooters in the shootout. T.J. Brennan and Mark Voakes each scored a goal in regulation and Varone netted the lone shootout tally. McNabb also contributed an assist to extend his current point streak to four games.

THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS: Fresh off their recent two-game sweep of the North Division-leading Toronto Marlies, the Amerks remain at home this weekend as they host the defending Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators on back-to-back nights at The Blue Cross Arena. Both games are slated for 7:35 p.m. starts and will be broadcast live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. Friday’s contest will also be televised live on Time Warner Cable SportsNet Channel 26. The intrastate rivals will exchange pleasantries four times in the next seven games, which includes a St. Patrick’s Day meeting in the Southern Tier on Saturday, March 17 and another tilt in downtown Rochester on Friday, March 23. The Amerks are 3-1-0-0 this season against the B-Sens after earning a 3-2 win in the teams’ most recent encounter back on January 7 in Binghamton. Rochester, however, is 34-36-6 lifetime against the Baby Sens.

UPCOMING PROMOTIONS: Friday’s game is the fourth of five Seneca Legends Nights at The Blue Cross Arena, featuring former Amerk and Sabre Rory Fitzpatrick. The Seneca Casinos Legends Series is now in its third year and has already featured appearances by hockey greats Danny Gare, Jason Pominville and Joe Crozier this season. Fitzpatrick, a native of Irondequoit, played in more than 800 professional games during his career, which began in 1995 with the Fredericton Canadiens and saw him retire as an Amerk following the 2009-10 season. A second round draft pick (47th overall) by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft during a standout junior hockey career with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, Fitzpatrick played 16 professional seasons in the NHL, AHL and IHL.

Friday’s contest falls on the next installment of the “Ditch the Dorms” night. 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.

It’s Irish Night on Saturday, which means fans who show up to the game wearing their festive green attire can purchase a $12 ticket in the best available seating location at the Box Office. As part of the festivities, fans can purchase specially made autographed St. Patrick’s Day-themed Mystery Pucks for $10.  Also on Saturday, it will be the fifth “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 tickets from The Blue Cross Arena Box Office for best available seating.

This weekend’s games also feature the $10 ticket offer presented by the Amerks and Tops Friendly Markets. Between now and March 10, shoppers who spend $100 or more at participating Tops locations using their Tops Bonus Card will receive a coupon at check-out that will allow them to purchase $10 lower bowl tickets to one of three upcoming Amerks games for a savings of $8 off the regular box office price. The offer, which is based upon availability, is valid for both games this weekend against and on Friday, March 30 vs. the Toronto Marlies. Each of the three games will begin at 7:35 p.m. Coupons can be redeemed at The Blue Cross Arena Box Office, the Amerks Main Office or at

At each of those three games, the Amerks and Tops will also hold “Star Toss” contests during the second intermission to benefit the following charities: Life Solutions (March 9), Brighton Food Pantry (March 10) and The Center for Youth (March 30). The Star Toss contests allow fans to purchase stars for $1 (or six for $5) and then "toss" them onto the ice during the second intermission.  The person whose star lands closest to the center face-off dot wins half of the money with the other half going to charity.

Lastly, during both games this weekend, there will be a Tim Horton’s Cup Drop, where fans who catch a cup falling from the rafters can win prizes from Tim Horton’s.  Every cup is a winner, with prizes including free coffee or a donut while one lucky fan will win a $50 Tim Horton’s gift card.

AMERKS NOTES: Rochester (28-22-6-3, 65 points) enters the week having won five of its last six games. After seeing its three-game winning streak snapped on Friday night with a 4-3 loss in Grand Rapids, the team bounced back with consecutive wins over Toronto to move into a two-way tie with the Peoria Rivermen for eighth place in the Western Conference standings. The Amerks are currently in the midst of a very tight playoff race among their fellow Western Conference opponents, where only three points separate the fourth place team from the 11th place team.

ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS: A crowd of 5,398 were on hand to witness the second-longest shootout in American Hockey League history on February 25 at The Blue Cross Arena as the Amerks and Lake Erie Monsters engaged in a marathon 15-round shootout battle. Eric Hunter scored for the Monsters in the third round, Varone answered for the Amerks in the fourth round, and Justin Mercier and Foligno traded goals in the 10th round to keep the game tied. Igor Gongalsky, on his second career shootout attempt, won it for Rochester as the 30th overall shooter. The longest shootout in AHL history was a 16-rounder between Cleveland and Utah on Dec. 3, 2004.

THE STREAK CONTINUES: With a pair of goals against Lake Erie on February 17, Rochester native Derek Whitmore became the first player this season to net 20 goals on his way to posting back-to-back 20-goal campaigns for the first time in his professional career. In doing so, Whitmore also preserved Rochester’s 56-year tradition of having at least one player from each season since the team’s inception in 1956 to score 20 or more goals, a streak that was sparked by Bronco Horvath’s team-leading 37 tallies during the Amerks’ inaugural 1956-57 season.

THE BEST OFFENSE IS A GOOD DEFENSE: Rochester’s success as of late can undoubtedly be attributed to the increase in offensive contributions from its blueliners. Since defeating Hershey by a 5-2 count on February 22, the Amerks have scored 19 goals to win five of their last six games, but more impressively, eight have come off the stick of a defenseman. Brennan and McNabb, who provided all three regulation goals in 4-3 shootout win over Lake Erie on February 25, show a combined 49 points (17+32) between the two of them this season. Brennan alone enters the week with four goals in his last four games for a season total of 13, which currently ties him with Albany’s Eric Gelinas for the lead among league rearguards.

WHO’S HOT: Varone notched his team-leading 41st point (8+33) of the season with an assist in Sunday’s win over Toronto. With the helper, Varone extended his current point streak to four games, giving him seven assists over that span. Varone also has 13 points (1+12) in the last nine games and has at least one point in 12 of the last 15 games. After starting the season with just six points in the first 23 games, the rookie has recorded an impressive 35 points in the last 36 games to rank fourth in the AHL in scoring during that span and has been held scoreless just four times over the last 18 contests.

McNabb has recorded 14 points (3+11) over his last 15 games since returning from the Sabres, including three consecutive appearances with multiple points from February 4-10. He also comes into the week with points in four straight games (2+3). With points in seven of the last 11 games, including the game-winner on Saturday in Toronto, Szczechura has recorded 16 points (8+8) in his last 21 games and ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 31 points (12+19) despite appearing in just 40 games this season.

Stuart, meanwhile, has notched three assists in the last three games and five helpers in the last six outings. Whitmore, despite seeing his three-game point streak cut short last Saturday, has five goals over his last nine games and has eight points (6+2) in 11 outings. Rankin shows three points (1+2) over his last four games, while Adam has six points (1+5) in his first 10 games in an Amerks uniform. Brennan, who has four goals in his last four games, shows 18 points (9+9) in his last 21 games and has only been held scoreless seven times during that stretch.

Foligno, back from his third NHL recall with the Sabres, has recorded 11 points (2+9) in his last 13 games has been held off the scoresheet just four times in the last 14 games. The Buffalo native has also amassed 22 points (5+17) over his last 28 games, a stretch that includes five multi-point performances.  Although on recall with Buffalo, second-year pro Corey Tropp had nine points (3+6) in his first seven games back in the lineup following a 10-game injury absence.

TEAM AND LEAGUE LEADERS: Ever since assembling a season-long seven-game point streak heading into the New Year, Varone has been Rochester’s most consistent and productive player. With 35 points in his last 36 games, the rookie forward has quickly found himself at the top of the Amerks’ scoring leaders with a team-high 41 points (8+33), which place him tied for 10th among league rookies in overall point production. With 23 helpers through his last 28 games, Varone has also taken over the team lead with 33 assists and is the only Amerk this season to appear in all 59 games thus far. Varone’s 33 assists also tie him for 14th in the AHL.

Foligno (14+20) and Whitmore (23+11) remain at a close second with 34 points apiece, which also puts Foligno in the top 20 among the AHL’s best first-year players. Whitmore shows a team-best 23 goals, including seven on the power-play, and is on pace to match his career-high 27 he scored last season in Portland. His 23 goals rank him eighth among the AHL’s top goal scorers, while he also ranks sixth in the AHL with 187 shots on goal. Defenseman Joe Finley leads Rochester with 91 penalty minutes, while Foligno’s four game-winning goals are the second-most among first-year skaters. Brennan (13+12) and McNabb (4+20) continue to lead all Rochester blueliners with 25 and 24 points, respectively, while Brennan’s 13 goals are tied for most amongst league rearguards.

Leggio, who has started six straight and 14 of the last 17 games for the Amerks, boasts a 20-16-1 record with a 2.64 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in 37 games. Coming off his 20th win of the season last night against Toronto, he presently ranks in the top five among AHL netminders in saves (1,051) and wins (20). Leggio is also seventh in minutes played (2,206) and tied for 17th in save percentage. The fourth-year netminder is on pace to surpass his 22 career AHL wins and match his single-season career-high 27 victories he notched with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades during the 2008-09 season.

ROOKIES STEPPING IT UP: The transition to the professional ranks for the Amerks’ freshmen this season has undoubtedly been a successful one for the young Buffalo Sabres prospects. Entering this week, two of Rochester’s top three scorers are currently in their first pro season. The Amerks have scored 172 goals through the first 59 games this season, but more impressively, 46 have been netted by a rookie, which equates to more than 25% of this year’s total offense. On a team that features seven different first-year players, three have made their NHL debuts with Buffalo and even spent significant time with the big club.

BY THE NUMBERS: The Amerks are 13-11-3-1 (30 points) this season against North Division rivals, but show a 15-11-3-2 (35 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. Rochester has outscored its opponents 98-80 at The Blue Cross Arena this season. The third period has been the Amerks’ strong suit thus far as the club has accounted for 59 goals while allowing 45. The Amerks have scored the first goal in 29 of the first 59 games of the campaign and show an 18-9-1-1 record when doing so, including a 10-4-0-0 mark at home. Rochester is also 16-1-1-0 when leading after two periods, a streak that also comes with an unblemished 12-0-0-0 mark at home.

HOME, SWEET HOME: Home-ice advantage has certainly been a factor in Rochester’s recent success as the Amerks are 14-7-2-0 in their last 23 games at home, including 8-2-1-0 in the last 11. After beginning the season with just two home wins in the first five outings, the Amerks, on the heels of their 2-1 win over Toronto on Sunday, enter the week riding a four-game home winning streak and show an 18-9-2-1 record (39 points) this season when playing in their downtown barn. Conversely, Rochester is 10-13-4-2 (26 points) away from the friendly confines of The Blue Cross Arena.

SPECIAL TEAMS BREAKDOWN: After going 5-for-19 on the man-advantage over their last four home wins, the Amerks currently have the league’s ninth-best home power-play unit, converting on 28 of 142 chances for a 19.7% success rate. On the penalty kill, Rochester has successfully killed off 197-of-247 (79.8%) shorthanded situations, including 106 of 130 at home for an 81.5% efficiency rate. As a team, Rochester has allowed eight shorthanded goals against, four coming at home and four on the road. They have also scored six shorthanded goals, including a team-high two from Varone.

MILESTONE WATCH: Whitmore reached a benchmark in his four-year career on February 25 when he touched the ice for his 300th professional game against Lake Erie. The Rochester native began the climb to 300 during the tail-end of the 2007-08 campaign, when he skated in eight games for his hometown Amerks upon the completion of his tenure at Bowling Green University. He also played his 300th AHL game Saturday night at Toronto. Goaltender Drew MacIntyre recently picked up the 150th win of his AHL career thanks in part to a 24-save effort against Texas on February 10. Rankin is one point shy of 200 professional points and four assists away from 100 assists. With three more points over the last three games, including his 100th career AHL assist, Stuart is on the verge of yet another personal milestone, needing just six more points for 200 in his AHL career. Finley is four games away from reaching the century mark in his pro career, while veteran defenseman Shaone Morrisonn is a mere eight games from making his 700th pro appearance.

THIS WEEK IN AMERKS HISTORY: Former Amerk captain Bob Mongrain scores the 7,000th goal in franchise history as Rochester defeated the Adirondack Red Wings 7-5 at the War Memorial on March 7, 1982.

DAY                                         TIME                                        LOCATION
Monday, March 5                   Day Off                                    ----
Tuesday, March 6                  10:30 a.m. practice                 Blue Cross Arena
Wednesday, March 7              10:30 a.m. practice                 Blue Cross Arena                   
Thursday, March 8                  10:30 a.m. practice                 Blue Cross Arena       
Friday, March 9                      10:00 a.m. game-day skate    Blue Cross Arena
                                               7:35 p.m. vs. Binghamton     Blue Cross Arena
Saturday, March 10                7:35 p.m. vs. Binghamton     Blue Cross Arena
Sunday, March 11                  Day Off                                    ----
*schedule subject to change