News | 9/23/2013 4:26:32 PM | Warren Kosel


Hockey returned to Rochester for the first time in over four months earlier today as 22 players hit the ice at The Blue Cross Arena, where the Rochester Americans opened Training Camp for the team’s first official practice for the 2013-14 American Hockey League season.

While many of its top line forwards and number one goaltender remain with the parent Buffalo Sabres, Rochester’s opening day roster featured a good mix of 13 forwards, six defensemen and a trio of goaltenders. It was a productive morning for the group with the youngsters turning in a high-intensity 90-minute workout that Amerks head coach Chadd Cassidy and his staff used to further familiarize players with the organization’s systems while taking a close look at the first-year prospects projected to make their professional debuts in the Flower City this season.

Cassidy, along with his assistants Chris Taylor and John Wroblewski, also spent the morning introducing the players to special teams tactics as well as putting them through a series of rigorous skating drills specifically designed to determine adequate levels of speed and fitness. Overall, Cassidy was pleased with the effort put in and hopes the team will build on it as the week progresses.

“It feels good to get out there and it’s always great to feel the energy of the players on the first day,” said Cassidy, who is set to begin his first full season as Rochester’s bench boss after replacing Sabres coach Ron Rolston. “You can tell they’re really excited to be here. We’ve got some guys that have been in camp in Buffalo and there’s the guys just coming in on a tryout with us, so there was a lot of energy out there today. It was a lot of fun to watch and be a part of.”

For Cassidy, today was also his first opportunity since taking over as head coach back in February to come into Training Camp with a full slate ahead of him. It’ll certainly be a new experience for Cassidy, but one that he’s absolutely ready for.

“I look forward to beginning my first full season here (in Rochester) a lot because at this point I get to put my own stamp on camp and the players and emphasize the things I think are going to be important for our success this year,” said Cassidy. “I felt it was really important to have this time to prepare and get a feel for the team and have them (the players) get a feel for me instead of being thrown right into it. Hopefully that’ll prove to be an advantage for us this year.”

Among the many things Cassidy and his staff are already striving to emphasize is not just winning the Calder Cup, but putting all the tools in place in order to get to the Calder Cup. The Amerks come into the new season having qualified for the postseason in each of the last two years, but have failed to win a playoff series since 2007 and win a playoff game since 2010. It’s a process, combined with that of hard work and a solid presence of veteran leadership, that will produce the results the Amerks are looking for.

“Every team at this time of year talks about winning the Calder Cup, and while every team wants to do that, what we need to focus on is the process and the details it takes for us to be a Calder Cup team,” said Cassidy. “We don’t need to talk about winning the Calder Cup. We need to do things right every day right now on a daily basis, make sure we’re doing the right things, we’re practicing the right way, we’re preparing ourselves the right way. And if we do that, the others things take care of themselves – the wins, the playoffs, making a deep run. It’s all great to talk about, but if you’re not focused on what you need to do right now, then it’s just talk.”

An abundance of Western New York talent headlined the start of the camp as four players from the region, including two invitees, took part in the on-ice session this morning. A native of York, goaltender Connor Knapp returns for his second season with the Amerks after splitting his rookie campaign between Rochester and Greenville of the ECHL.

Signed to an American Hockey League contract by the Amerks earlier this summer, rookie defensemen Alex Lepkowski is among the wave of new talent coming to Rochester this season. The West Seneca native recently completed his junior career with the OHL’s Barrie Colts, recording nine assists and racking up 78 penalty minutes in 60 games. Lepkowski’s NHL rights are also owned by the Sabres, who drafted the 6-foot-4, 203-pound rearguard in the fifth round (137th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Joining Lepkowski on the blueline is fellow defenseman Tom Janosz, one of five invitees to attend camp this season. Janosz, the younger brother of Amerks goalie coach Bob Janosz, played his college hockey at the University of Connecticut, guiding the Huskies to two Atlantic Hockey Tournament appearances, including one most recently during his senior season in 2012-13. Janosz, who still resides in the Buffalo suburb of Elma, was signed to an ECHL contract by the South Carolina Stingrays earlier this summer.

Headlining the list of local participants is Rochester native Ryan Grimshaw, who returns for his second in Rochester. Grimshaw joined the Amerks for three regular season games in 2011-12 following the end of his senior campaign at Harvard before appearing in all three playoff contests for Rochester. Grimshaw, who grew up in nearby Greece, split last season between the Toronto Marlies and Trenton Titans (ECHL) while also spending some time overseas with the Mannheim Eagles of the German professional league.

“He’s a guy that we feel very comfortable with and what he brings to the table,” said Cassidy about Grimshaw. “We’re obviously very familiar with the kind of player he is, but right now it’s still a numbers game.”
The Amerks dressed three goaltenders in Day 1 of camp today, including two that spent time in Rochester last season. In addition to Knapp, second-year netminder Nathan Lieuwen and rookie backstop Andrey Makarov rotated between the pipes. With two preseason games on the schedule later this week, Cassidy said that he and his staff will deliberate on playing time, but at this point it’s still up for grabs.

Now that Matt Hackett has officially been assigned to the Amerks, the competition in net becomes much more demanding with a fourth netminder in the mix. However, it also presents a unique opportunity for each to showcase their own individual strengths.

Hackett, who posted a 2-0-0 record with a 1.62 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in three preseason games with the Buffalo Sabres, and Lieuwen, who recently helped Buffalo to a second-place finish at the 2013 NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, are the likely frontrunners for the top job.

“I think at this point we’ll sit down as a staff and talk about how we want to divide the exhibition games, who we feel we need to get prepared and who we feel needs some more opportunities so we can get an evaluation on him. There’s still a lot to discuss, but as of now, it’s still wide open.
The Amerks get right back to work for Day 2 of camp Tuesday morning at The Blue Cross Arena. Joining the group will be Hackett, Brayden McNabb, Chad Ruhwedel and Mike Zigomanis. Drew Bagnall and Matt Ellis will also be assigned to Rochester, pending waivers, leaving Rochester with 16 forwards. nine defensemen and four goalies.

Training Camp Notes
Veteran forward Jamie Tardif was the only player forced to miss practice as a lower-body injury prevented him from participating on the first day of AHL camp. Tardif, who scored 30 goals with the Providence Bruins last season, is coming off a career-year in 2012-13 that saw him earn AHL All-Star honors as well as make his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins... Of the 23 players on Rochester’s opening day roster, a dozen played at least one game with the Amerks last season, including forwards Phil Varone and Frederick Roy and defensemen Nick Crawford and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc.... Monday’s roster also featured 12 Sabres draft picks.

Rochester will open its 2013 preseason slate with the first of back-to-back tilts against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at Bills Gray’s Iceplex on the campus of MCC. It’ll be the second straight year the Amerks and Baby Pens squared off in preseason action. General admission seating for the 7:05 p.m. contest is available for $5 at the Amerks Office or at Bill Gray’s Iceplex. The Amerks will conclude their preseason schedule as the home-and-home series shifts to Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza for Game 2 on Friday, Sept. 25 in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.