|CHRIS TAYLOR POST-GAME|
|BRIAN GIONTA POST-GAME|
|KEVIN PORTER POST-GAME|
(Rochester, NY) – In front of the largest crowd since the 2014-15 season when 10,641 packed The Blue Cross Arena, the Rochester Americans (25-10-5-5) returned home following the AHL All-Star break as they hosted the league-leading Toronto Marlies (33-11-0-1) on Hometown Heroes Night. A crowd of 9,836 was on hand to witness one of the most-highly anticipated games of the season despite the Amerks dropping a 4-2 decision to the Marlies.
Despite the loss, the Amerks have earned points in 31 of their last 37 games dating back to Nov. 1 and suffered their first regulation loss at The Blue Cross since Dec. 30 as they show a record of 3-1-0-1 during that span.
Rochester native and 39-year-old veteran Brian Gionta scored his first goal as an Amerk in his debut in the red, white and blue after signing a one-game professional tryout earlier in the week while Arvin Atwal booked his first-career AHL tally for Rochester. Goaltender Linus Ullmark made 27 saves but took the loss. The Swedish netminder has gone winless gone in his last six outings.
Andreas Johnsson grabbed a hold of the Marlies scoring lead on the campaign as he netted his second straight three-point (1-2) outing while Miro Aaltonen collected a two-point (1+1) effort in the win. Richard Clune and Vincent LoVerde capped off the scoring while Garrett Sparks, who was recently named CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month, extended his win streak to seven games as the Illinois native stopped 26 of 28 shots he faced.
After the Amerks grabbed their first lead of the contest at the 12:26 mark of the second period, the Marlies tied the game at 2-2 just 31 seconds later when Johnsson scored his team-leading 21st tally of the season.
The two clubs emerged from the second intermission deadlocked at two and traded chances throughout the first half of the final 20 minutes of the regulation. However, the Marlies scored a pair of markers 2:43 apart to double up the Amerks, 4-2, and pick up their 11th win in the last 12 games as they carry an 11-0-0-1 record since Dec. 31.
Following a scoreless first period of play between the two North Division rivals, Toronto’s Clune bagged his second tally of the slate 11:49 into the middle frame.
Rochester quickly responded, turning a one-goal deficit into one-goal cushion as the Amerks scored a pair of tallies 51 seconds apart.
As he collected a pass from the left point, Atwal fired a shot past a screened Sparks from the top of the right face-off dot. While Kyle Criscuolo provided the traffic in front of the netminder, Stuart Percy and C.J. Smith were credited the assists on Atwal’s first goal as an Amerk and first at the American Hockey League level.
Rochester carried the momentum as Gionta was sprung on breakaway from the near-blueline into towards Sparks. The veteran of 1,006 National Hockey League games patiently faked a shot before tucking in a back-handed shot past the outstretched left leg of Sparks to give Rochester the advantage.
Matt Tennyson and Kevin Porter, who recorded his 200th professional assist, helped setup Gionta’s tally but the visitors from the north were not fazed as Johnsson tied the contest just 31 seconds later that set-up a 2-2 score going into the final period.
“It was a great play on the wall by Alex (Nylander), and by ‘Ports’,” said Gionta. “Ports found me going into the zone, so the credit should go to those two. The support was great tonight as we had close to a full building, but unfortunately we came up just short. I appreciate everything that the organization has done for me and providing me with this opportunity. Some guys had to sit out because of the veteran rule, so I cannot thank them enough.”
Toronto scored a pair of tallies in the final four minutes of the contest to record its league-best 33rd win of the season and its second-straight against the Amerks in the eight-game season series.
“I thought tonight was okay,” said Amerks head coach Chris Taylor. “I did not like the end of the first period but I thought we took over in the second only to sit back in the third period. I really liked our effort in a great atmosphere but we just fell short of the two points tonight.”
The Amerks close out the first weekend of February as they travel to the southern tier to face the Binghamton Devils at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday, Feb. 3. Game time is slated for a 7:05 p.m. start and will be carried live on The Sports Leader 95.7 FM/950 AM ESPN Rochester.
RCH: Atwal (1), Gionta (1)
TOR: Clune (2), Johnsson (21), Aaltonen (8), LoVerde (2)
RCH: Ullmark – 27/31 (L)
TOR: Sparks – 26/28 (W)
RCH: PP (0/3) | PK (2/2)
TOR: PP (0/2) | PK (3/3)