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DOWN ON THE FARM

Wednesday, 01.11.2012 / 11:30 AM / News
WEEKLY NOTES: After claiming four out of a possible six points on the road this past weekend to start the New Year, the Rochester Americans will once again return to familiar territory with home ice advantage on their side for the next two weeks. As the team’s final four-game homestand of the season approaches, Rochester looks to continue reaping the benefits of its downtown barn, a place the Amerks can attribute much of their recent success to. Despite having just eight out of 24 games at home between January and December, the Amerks have played well within the comforts of The Blue Cross Arena, where they are 7-3-0-0 in their last 10 games dating back to November 11. But more importantly, however, is Rochester’s consistent play as of late that has helped maintain its second-place standing in the American Hockey League’s North Division. Looking ahead, the Amerks, with points in seven of their last eight games, have the opportunity to reclaim divisional supremacy this weekend when Toronto and Hamilton come to town for games where more than two points are on the line.

THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS: After beginning the New Year away with a three-game road trip, the Amerks return home to The Blue Cross Arena this weekend for a pair of divisional bouts, starting on Friday, January 13 when the Toronto Marlies come to the Flower City. The 7:35 p.m. contest will be the fourth of 10 scheduled meetings this season between the two teams and will be carried live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. Rochester has dropped all three games with Toronto this season, with its most recent loss coming in the form of a 3-2 setback in the back-end of a home-and-home series with the Marlies on November 19. The Amerks are 23-28-2 all-time against the Baby Maple Leafs coming into this weekend.

Rochester remains at home on Saturday, January 14 as the Hamilton Bulldogs make their way to Western New York for the second time in as many weeks. The 7:35 matchup will be the eighth of 10 get-togethers between the North Division rivals this season and will can be heard live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. The Amerks are 1-4-1-1 this season against the Bulldogs, which includes a 1-1-0-1 showing at home. Hamilton comes into this weekend the winners of six of the first seven meetings with Rochester this season, including its 5-4 win in the previous encounter with the Amerks on December 30. Despite showing a 1-4-1-1 record in the season series with Hamilton thus far, the Amerks are 73-66-10 all-time against the Montreal Canadiens’ affiliate.

UPCOMING PROMOTIONS: Friday’s contest falls on the next installment of the “Ditch the Dorms” night. Beginning this season, 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.

Friday’s game will also be the first of five scheduled Seneca Casinos Legends Nights this season, featuring Sabres Hall of Famer and broadcaster Danny Gare. Gare will be on hand to sign autographs prior to the game and perform the ceremonial face-off. The Seneca Casinos Legends Series is now in its third year and will feature appearances by different hockey greats at four more Amerks games this season, including Thursday, Feb. 2; Friday, Feb. 17; Friday, Mar. 9; and Friday, Mar. 30. Fans can visit www.amerks.com for more information on the Seneca Casinos Legends Nights. On Saturday night, fans can receive special discounted tickets for showing their true colors. The game features the third “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 $12.00 tickets from The Blue Cross Arena Box Office for best available seating.

AMERKS NOTES: Rochester (16-13-4-3, 39 points) enters the week after claiming four out of a possible six points in what turned out to be a rather successful first weekend of the New Year. Despite posting a 1-0-0-2 record in their three games this past weekend, the Amerks have now collected points in seven of their last eight games and show a 5-2-1-2 record in their last 10 outings. The Amerks, who own the second-best winning percentage (.625) among division rivals, still trail the division-leading Toronto Marlies by a mere four points for the top spot in the American Hockey League’s North Division. Rochester also comes into the new week as one of the least penalized teams in the AHL and is just one of five clubs to have fewer than 500 penalty minutes. Coming off its 3-2 win in Binghamton on Saturday, Rochester has not lost a road game in regulation since December 17 (6-2 loss at Texas) and is 3-1-1-2 in their last seven games away from The Blue Cross Arena. The Amerks’ roster is beginning to look much as it did at the start of the campaign as Rochester has seen the return of several of its missing players, including the likes of Tropp and Kassian, who’ve each spent considerable time with the Buffalo Sabres. With an almost healthy lineup in Buffalo, only two Amerks remain on recall with the big club, rookie defenseman Brayden McNabb and veteran team captain Colin Stuart.

ATLANTIC CITY BOUND: The American Hockey League announced last week that McNabb has been named to the Western Conference All-Star roster for the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic. The game will take place in historic Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Monday, Jan. 30. McNabb, who is currently on recall to the Buffalo Sabres, has appeared in 19 games for the Amerks this season, recording 10 points on one goal and nine assists to go along with a +5 rating and 16 penalty minutes. His lone goal on the season, which was the first of his professional career, was the overtime game-winner in a 6-5 victory over Syracuse on Nov. 6. The 20-year-old rookie blueliner was recalled to the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 26 and has remained with the parent club since then. At the time of his recall, McNabb was leading all Amerks defensemen in scoring and currently ranks third on the team in that capacity. In 18 games with the Sabres, McNabb has recorded one goal and three assists. A native of Davidson, Saskatchewan, McNabb made his NHL debut on Nov. 26 versus the Washington Capitals and scored his first NHL goal/point on Dec. 26 against the Capitals.

RANKIN’ AMONG THE BEST: Despite missing the last five games with an injury, Evan Rankin, who signed a pro tryout with the Amerks on November 25, has produced at nearly a point-per-game pace since joining the team, recording 12 points (7+5) in 13 games after beginning the season with Toledo (ECHL). With several of the Amerks’ top scorer’s shuttling back and forth between Rochester and the Buffalo Sabres, Rankin’s 12 points are tops on the team since November 25. During his tenure with the Amerks, Rankin has been held scoreless just five times and has contributed four multi-point games. His seven goals already rank him tied for fifth on the club.

WHO’S HOT: Coming off the first multi-goal game of his professional career over the weekend, Varone enters the week on a career-best seven-game point streak (4+5) and has 14 points in his last 13 games. The rookie now has 20 points (5+15) on the season, 12 of which have come over the last month. Another first-year player who’s also been productive as of late is Marcus Foligno, who has four assists through his last five games and has registered seven points (1+6) in the last six outings. Whitmore has six points (3+3) in his last seven games with the Amerks since making his NHL debut for the Sabres on December 20.  Brennan, who carried a career-best seven-game point streak (3+5) into 2012, shows nine points (3+6) in as many games and has only been held scoreless once during that stretch. In his last 11 games in an Amerks sweater, a span that includes two recalls to Buffalo and an injury absence, Brennan has registered 12 points on six goals and six assists. Forward Igor Gongalsky, who signed a professional tryout with Rochester on December 21, recorded points in back-to-back games first time this season after scoring a shorthanded goal Saturday in Binghamton and assisting on another Friday in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Legault also comes into the week with two points (1+1) in three games.

TEAM AND LEAGUE LEADERS: With three points in his last four games, Whitmore remains Rochester’s top point-getter with a team-high 15 goals and 24 points, in addition to a team-best 120 shots on goal. His 15 goals rank him tied for 11th among the AHL’s top goal scorers as the Rochester native has now scored 10 goals in his last 18 games. He also ranks eighth in the AHL in shots on goal. With five helpers through his last seven games and goals in three straight, Varone has taken over the team lead with 15 assists and moved into second on the team in scoring. Mark Voakes leads the team with a +10 rating and is one of just two Amerks players to appear in all 36 games thus far along with Varone. Joe Finley leads the Amerks with 73 penalty minutes, good enough for sixth among league rookies in that category.

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, three of Rochester’s top four scorers are currently in their first pro season and one point is all that separates them in the overall points table. Varone leads the group with 20 points, Foligno at a close second with 19 and Kassian, who recently returned from the Sabres, is not too far off with 18. The next closest rookie is McNabb with 10 points, but he remains on NHL recall with Buffalo. The Amerks have scored 105 goals through the first 36 games this season, but more impressively, 28 were scored by a rookie, which equates to more than 25% of this year’s total offense. On a team that features eight different first-year players, four have made their NHL debuts with Buffalo and even spent significant time with the big club.

SHARING THE CREASE: The goaltending duties for the Amerks this season have been equally shared among the tandem of Leggio and MacIntyre – so much that their numbers are nearly identical. Leggio, who has started the last two games, boasts a 10-8-1 record with a 2.85 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in 19 games. He also presently ranks tied for 15th among AHL netminders in wins. MacIntyre, meanwhile, shows a 6-9-2 record with a 2.85 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in 18 games between the pipes. Leggio has made 525 saves in 1,114 minutes played compared to MacIntyre’s 506-save count in 1,073 minutes of service.

BY THE NUMBERS: The Amerks are 6-6-2-1 (15 points) this season against North Division rivals, but show a 10-7-2-2 (24 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. The third period has been the Amerks’ strong suit thus far as the club has accounted for 36 goals while allowing 27. The Amerks have scored the first goal in just 18 of the first 36 games of the campaign and show a 10-6-1-1 record when doing so, including a 6-2-0-0 mark at home. Rochester is also 8-0-1-0 when leading after two periods, a streak that also shows an unblemished 5-0-0-0 mark at home.

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: Sixteen of the last 24 games for the Amerks have been decided by one goal, including the last six straight. Of Rochester’s 36 games thus far this season, 21 of them have been determined by a one-goal difference, 11 of which were settled either in overtime or via the shootout, for an 8-6-4-3 mark in favor of the Amerks.

HOME, SWEET HOME: Home-ice advantage has certainly been a factor in Rochester’s success as the Amerks are 7-3-0-0 in their last 10 games at home. After beginning the season with just two home wins, the Amerks show a 10-5-0-1 record (21 points) this season when playing in their downtown barn. Conversely, Rochester is 6-8-4-2 (18 points) away from the friendly confines of The Blue Cross Arena.

THE ROAD ‘MORE’ TRAVELED: The reunion between the Buffalo Sabres and Amerks not only restored hockey’s longest NHL-AHL affiliation, but it made the commute for those fortunate enough to earn a recall to Buffalo almost effortless to get there. The Amerks have seen 10 different players over 17 total recalls make the 75-mile trek west down Interstate 90, including several on game day.  In addition to Szczechura and Tropp, the Sabres have also required the services of MacIntyre, Whitmore, Foligno, Brennan, Finley, Kassian, and team captain Colin Stuart, who along with McNabb, remain with Buffalo.

SPECIAL TEAMS BREAKDOWN: The Amerks have gone 20-for-111 (18.0%) on the power-play over their last 23 games, which includes going 2-for-4 in Sunday’s shootout loss to Hershey. On the penalty kill, Rochester has successfully killed off 125-of-156 (80.1%) shorthanded situations, including 61 of 72 at home for an 84.7% efficiency rate, good for the league’s 11th-best rating in that category. As a team, Rochester has allowed a league-most eight shorthanded goals against, four coming at home and four on the road. 

MILESTONE WATCH: MacIntyre is a mere two wins short of 50 AHL victories while Rankin is four points shy of 200 professional points and six assists away from 100 assists. Back for a second stint with the Amerks, veteran forward Michael Ryan is just two games away from his 400th professional game, 214 of which have been played in Rochester. More than a month removed from skating in his 500th professional game, Stuart is on the verge of yet another personal milestone, needing just 11 more points for 200 in his AHL career. Szczechura needs just three more assists to reach the century mark in his AHL career while Legault is on pace to skate in his 100th AHL game this weekend against Hamilton.

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