It’s a brand-new decade and the Rochester Americans have knocked off another month of regular season play, with five more wins to add to their overall record. In January, the Amerks continued to crunch the competition, finished out the month amongst the top two teams in the North Division and reached the halfway point of the 2019-20 campaign. Another month marked off the calendar and another round of your top 10 takeaways for the Amerks during the month of January.
1. OH, WE’RE HALFWAY THERE
The American Hockey League season consists of 76 regular-season games for most of the 31 teams.
On Jan. 17, the Amerks hit the halfway point in their season with their 38th game coming against the Cleveland Monsters at The Blue Cross Arena. The Wednesday night face-off unfortunately wouldn’t end in the Amerks favor, but coincidentally it marked the last loss that Rochester has seen since that mid-January night.
At the halfway point in the Amerks regular season they were sporting a 21-11-2-3 overall record.
2. CRUNCHING THE COMPETITION
Following Friday’s face-off against the Syracuse Crunch, the Amerks have now seen their North Division rival for six of 12 matchups scheduled for this season.
Back on Oct. 4, the Amerks started off the 2019-20 campaign with their first of two overtime wins against the Crunch in the first month of the regular season. The month of November brought just one matchup between Rochester and Syracuse, in which this 4-3 regulation win for the Amerks would kick-off their five-game win streak, the longest of the season.
After not seeing Syracuse at all during the final calendar month of 2019, Rochester would have three matchups against them come the new first month of the new decade.
After claiming the first three meetings of the season series, Rochester was unfortunately handed its first loss against Syracuse back on Jan. 11 in yet another one-goal game. The Amerks were sure to bounce back against their North Division foe come the last two games of the month. On Jan. 25, Rochester headed to Upstate Medical University Arena to get a final finish of 3-2 in its favor, heading into the All-Star break on a three-game win streak.
Just last Friday, the Amerks faced off in the second half of their home-and-home series at The Blue Cross Arena, getting a 4-2 win over the Crunch. Scott Wilson led the way in scoring with a pair of goals an assist, while first-year goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen evened his season record to 1-1-1 while making 31 saves in net. Rochester rounded out the month with its fifth win of the year against Syracuse and fourth straight in January.
Notably, after going 4-5-1-0 against the Crunch during the 2017-18 campaign, the Amerks have posted a 11-5-1-1 against Syracuse over the last 18 contests.
3. DOMENIC PITTIS ENTERS AMERKS HALL OF FAME
The Amerks inducted forward Domenic Pittis into the team’s Hall of Fame on Friday, Jan. 31 when they hosted the Syracuse Crunch during the second Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino Legends Night at The Blue Cross Arena. Pittis, who played parts of three seasons in Rochester over two stints, became the 65th member of the prestigious club.
4. UKKO-PEKKA LUUKKONEN RETURNS TO THE FLOWER CITY
After the promotion of fellow goaltender Jonas Johansson to the Buffalo Sabres roster on Jan. 29, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen returned to Rochester for his third recall of the season and second during the first month of the new calendar year.
In three games with the Amerks, he shows an 1-1-1 record with a 2.93 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. Luukkonen also boasts a 12-6-3 record in 22 games with Cincinnati. The 20-year-old rookie netminder ranks third among all ECHL goaltenders with a 2.16 goals-against average and is eighth in the league with a .916 save percentage while also being tied for third with three shutouts.
This past week, Luukkonen appeared at the 2020 Warrior/ECHL All-Star Classic, representing the Cyclones. The Espoo, Finland, native was also honored by the league as the Warrior Hockey/ECHL Goaltender of the Month for November after posting a record of 6-2-1-0 and with a 1.88 goals-against average along a .925 save percentage.
Luukkonen earned his first professional win with Rochester after stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced in his pro debut in the season-ending win at Belleville back on Apr. 14 of last season. During the 2018-19 campaign, he was named the OHL’s MVP and top goaltender after posting a 38-11-2-2 record in 53 games with the Sudbury Wolves, leading the league in both wins (38) and shutouts (6).
5. FROM SLIDING TO STREAKING
Now, most of us would like to think of the number seven as a token of luck, but for the Amerks, that lucky number didn’t seem so lucky in the first month of the new decade.
From Jan. 4 through Jan. 19, Rochester endured a seven-game slide, collecting just two points over that time. Both points came in a pair of shootout losses to the Binghamton Devils and Cleveland Monsters, both of which came on home ice. Since then, however, the Amerks have turned things around considerably, winning each of their last five games to enter the month of February on a five-game win streak and just four points out of first place in the AHL’s North Division standings.
6. OUT WITH A WIN
After finding their second win of the month come late January, the Amerks began to go on their second-longest winning streak of the season at four games.
Beginning on Jan. 22, Rochester would shift momentum in its favor with its fifth overtime win of the season against Cleveland. After their trip to take on the Monsters, the Amerks would play back-to-back nights before heading into the All-Star break.
On Jan. 24, the Amerks took on the Laval Rocket for the third time this year, remaining undefeated against Montreal’s affiliate this season. Jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period, the Rocket were never able to catch up to the Amerks, ending in a 5-2 score in favor of Rochester. The Amerks have now lit the lamp 13 times in just three games against Laval.
The following day, Rochester would be back on the road against the Crunch at Upstate Medical University Arena for the second time in January. For the third straight game, the Amerks would get on the board first, keeping the lead for the entirety of the contest. Syracuse would come within a goal with just 1:42 left in the contest, but the Amerks withstood the late push and held for the 3-2 win.
Finishing up the second half of the home-and-home series upon their return from the All-Star break, the Amerks would take home one more win over the Crunch, this time by a 4-2 margin. Scott Wilson, Casey Mittelstadt and C.J. Smith all would light the lamp and would help lift Rochester to its fourth straight victory.
7. BRINGING IN THE BREAK
Speaking of Rochester’s win streak during the month of January, it all began right before the All-Star Break hit.
The Amerks only had two more games before embarking on their mid-season break. Prior to their time off, Rochester took home three-straight contests before getting a much needed four days rest to head into the final stretch of the 2019-20 season ready to go.
8. HEY NOW, HERE’S OUR ALL-STARS
On Jan. 3, the American Hockey League announced the playing rosters for the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Ontario International Airport. Goaltender Jonas Johansson and defenseman Lawrence Pilut were named Rochester’s two representatives, joining head coach Chris Taylor, who secured the honor of coaching the North Division squad. Taylor, an Amerks Hall of Famer who’s now in his third season at the helm of the Amerks, became Rochester’s first All-Star coach since John Tortorella in 1997.
After earning his second straight AHL All-Star selection, Pilut was unable to attend the event for the second year due to NHL recall. Prior to his third recall of the year, Pilut had played in 30 games for Rochester, notching a career-high six goals. The Amerks defenseman is currently tied for 18th among all AHL blueliners with his 22 points, with 10 of those coming in his last 10 appearances.
Johannsson earned his first AHL All-Star selection since posting a career-best 13-3-3 record with two shutouts in 20 games played this season. He also has the third-best goal-against average in the league (2.19) and ranks fourth among all netminders with a .925 save percentage. A third-round pick (61st overall) of the Buffalo Sabres in 2014, the 6-foot-5, 219-pound netminder has spent parts of the last four seasons with the Amerks, boasting a 24-10-6 record with a 2.61 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage in 39 career games.
9. JOHANSSON TAKES ON CALI
The 2020 AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Sunday, Jan. 26 pitted the All-Stars from the two Eastern Conference divisions against those from the two Western Conference divisions in seven different skills events. In those seven events, Johansson made an appearance in three.
For his first event, Johansson made five saves against both Tyler Benson (Bakersfield Condors) and Brennan Menell (Iowa Wild) during AHL TV Rapid Fire. Next up was the Greater Ontario Convention and Visitors Bureau Pass and Score in which Johansson allowed two goals while making one save against the trio of Kale Clague (Ontario Reign), Chris Wideman (San Diego Gulls) and Kyle Capobianco (Tucson Roadrunners).
The seventh and final event of the first day of All-Star activities was the Upper Deck Breakaway Relay and arguably Johansson’s best event of the day. The Amerks goaltender faced five different Western Division opponents in which he allowed just one goal on five shots from some of the best in the league.
The following day during the 2020 AHL All-Star Challenge, the four teams participated in a 3-on-3, round-robin tournament which featured six games of 10 minutes each with Johansson getting time in two of the three games that the North Division took part in. In a three-game set, the North Division unfortunately took three straight losses.
During the first matchup of the round-robin tournament, the North and Pacific Divisions would head into a shootout effort ending in a 6-5 score line. Johansson made the start in this first game, allowing five goals in regulation and the unfortunate deciding factor during the extra frame of hockey. The Atlantic Division, captained by former Sabre Matt Moulson, went onto win the event for the first time in event history.
10. FEBRUARY IS FOR FACE-OFFS
With the shortest month of the calendar year up next, the Amerks are set to play 14 games over the course of the next 29 days.
Of those 14 February face-offs, Rochester is set to hit the road for seven games, including the first three matchups being against North Division opponents in the Binghamton Devils, Cleveland Monsters and Toronto Marlies. The Amerks will then find themselves in Charlotte, North Carolina for a two-game set against the defending Calder Cup Checkers for their only road trip to the south during the regular season. Rounding out the first half of the month on the road, Rochester will see the Syracuse Crunch twice in three weeks at Upstate Medical University Arena respectively.
Bringing it back home, the Amerks have half of their February tilts right here in the Flower City and The Blue Cross Arena. This coming Friday brings back the Crunch during Reeds Jewelers Night presented by Reeds Jewelers. After four games on the road, the Amerks then come home for a season-long six-game homestand with four landing in a one-week span from Kids Day presented by NY’s 529 College Savings Program on Sunday, Feb. 16 to Hometown Heroes Night presented by Advantage Federal Credit Union on Saturday, Feb. 22. The final week of February will feature the final two home games of the month, ending with Defend the Ice Night present by Seneca Park Zoo on Friday, Feb. 28. All face-offs are set to begin at 7:05 p.m. other than the Feb. 16 game, which is scheduled for a 3:05 p.m.