AMERKS OPEN TRAINING CAMP: DAY ONE NOTEBOOKOct 6, 2021
By Ryan J. Harr
On Tuesday morning, the Rochester Americans took to the ice to begin their 2021-22 Training Camp with a group of 19 skaters and three goaltenders at The Blue Cross Arena.
Second-year Amerks head coach Seth Appert along with assistant coaches Michael Peca and Mike Weber, all put the group through their first official skate of the 2021-22 season. It was the team’s initial practice in Rochester after spending last several weeks assisting at Buffalo Sabres Training Camp. The trio were also joined by Adam Mair, who spent last season as an assistant coach with Appert and Weber and now serves as the director of player development for the organization, and former Amerks Tim Kennedy and Nathan Paetsch, both of whom are in their first seasons as player development coaches with Buffalo. Jason Payne and Alex Bezzera of the Cincinnati Cyclones accompanied the team.
Familiar Faces Return
Following the Amerks historic 65th season, which was undoubtedly one of the most challenging and saw 44 different players wear the red, white and blue, several familiar faces made their way back to The Blue Cross Arena,
After appearing in all but one game with the Amerks last season on a professional tryout (PTO), Michael Mersch, 28, returns to the Flower City after finishing second on the team in points (19) and third in goals (8) in 28 games during the 2020-21 season. The veteran forward inked a two-year American Hockey League deal during the offseason and will certainly be the frontrunner to serve as team captain following the departure of Steven Fogarty.
The eight-year pro has appeared in 405 career AHL games between the Amerks, Texas Stars, Ontario Reign and Manchester Monarchs, totaling 264 points (130+134) while also adding 35 points (16+19) in 44 Calder Cup Playoff games. Additionally, Mersch, a four-time 20-goal scorer in the AHL who won a Calder Cup with Manchester in 2015, has skated in 17 career NHL contests with the Los Angeles Kings, tallying a goal and a pair of assists.
WATCH: MICHAEL MERSCH AFTER TUESDAY’S PRACTICE
In addition to Mersch, forwards Ryan Scarfo, Matej Pekar, Patrick Polino, Dominic Franco, Brent Gates, Jr., and Brendan Warren all are entering their second year with Rochester as is defensemen Oskari Laaksonen.
Forward Sean Malone returns for his second stint with the organization after recording 65 points (28+37) over 169 career games with the Rochester Americans from 2017-20.
Goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen headlines goaltending trio which also features Michael Houser, who’s coming off a storybook season in 2020-21.
Luukkonen, 22, returns for his third season with the club. During the 2020-21 campaign, he appeared in an AHL career-high 14 games, recording a 7-5-2 record while he also appeared in four games with Buffalo for the first time in his career. He showed a 1-3-0 record with the Sabres.
The Espoo, Finland made three straight starts for the Sabres from April 27 to May 1. On April 23, he recorded 36 saves to pick up his first NHL win in his NHL debut in Buffalo’s 6-4 win over Boston on 4/23. Luukkonen became the first Sabres netminder to win his first career start since Mika Noronen on Oct. 5, 2000.
Houser, meanwhile, split last season between the Sabres and Amerks. He earned the start in each of Buffalo’s final four games, posting a 2-2-0 record with 127 saves, a 3.46 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage over that span. Additionally, he started four straight games for the Amerks, going 1-3-0 with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, winning his final appearance of the season.
Houser made his NHL debut with a 34-save effort on May 3 to earn his first career victory. He was just the seventh goaltender in Buffalo history to record a win in his first start. Two nights following his victory over the New York Islanders, Houser won his second straight contest with 45 stops against the Islanders, becoming the first Sabres goaltender to win his first two NHL starts since Mika Noronen did so on Oct. 5 and 7, 2000.
WATCH: SETH APPERT AFTER TUESDAY’S PRACTICE
Malone and Polino both grew up in Buffalo and now both are in the Flower City looking to make impacts.
Malone, a West Seneca native, returns to Rochester for his fourth season. The 6-foot-0, 197-pound forward has totaled 80 points (33+47) in 192 career AHL contests, including 15 points (5+10) last season as a member of the Chicago Wolves. Additionally, Malone has registered a pair of helpers in three career Calder Cup Playoff contests.
Originally drafted by Buffalo in the sixth round (159th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, Malone, made his NHL debut during the 2016-17 season for the Sabres. In his only game at the NHL level last season, Malone notched his first NHL point with an assist for the Nashville Predators on Feb. 9.
Polino, a Buffalo resident, appeared in 20 games and registered three goals and four assists for seven points during his rookie season with the club. He netted the first shorthanded goal of his career against Syracuse on May 15 after scored his first pro goal against the Crunch on April 21
Before joining the Amerks on a PTO last season, Polino completed a four-year collegiate career at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (ECAC), tallying 52 points (24+28) over 131 games for the Engineers.
WATCH: SEAN MALONE AFTER TUESDAY’S PRACTICE
After an unusual three-week camp leading into the shortened 2020-21 season, the club will have a traditional week-long camp this year.
The Amerks are set to open their preseason schedule on Friday, Oct. 8 at 7:00 p.m. against the Utica Comets at the Adirondack Bank Center before finishing with the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at The Blue Cross Arena.