Blogs | 10/14/2011 3:20:56 PM | Don Stevens
| Gage, Bolibruck and Fisher (Micheline Veluvelo)
Well, the “home opener” is history. Talk about a night of highs and lows. What started out on such a high, ended in disappointment with the Amerks dropping a 5-1 decision to the Penguins. But you know me… I prefer to focus in on the positives, and there was plenty of that to go around.
Kudos to Rob Kopacz and the entire Amerks staff for the great job they did in pulling off one of the most memorable opening nights in the history of the franchise. And of course, the thanks stretch all the way to the top, to owner Terry Pegula for making such a spectacle possible. Let’s not forget about Ted Black (Sabres/Amerks President) and just about the whole Sabres staff that, in spite of having their own season home opener to put on Friday night, were all out in force in Rochester to help make sure that the night went so well.
What an incredible alumni base the Amerks have. To see over 50 returnees from all over the US and Canada, and even Europe, was such a thrill. To witness how happy they were to see each other for the first time in many years, to hear some of the stories and all the barbs they would throw at each other… it was like they had played together only last week.
And I was so pleased to see such tremendous support from the Rochester fans. I was hoping for one or two hundred out front for the red carpet walk by the players and alumni. When we pulled up to the curb in front of the Blue Cross Arena and saw all the people outside, I thought it was very nice… good turnout. But then when we walked into the atrium and saw the line of people all the way across the lobby, up the stairs and all the way across the upper atrium, past the Hall of Fame display… it was such a great feeling. It was the best I’ve felt about the future of the franchise since the last championship 15 year ago.
Then the introductions. The former players were brought out onto the ice by the decades, starting back to the 60’s, and even I was still in high school in the mid 60’s. What a privilege it was for me to stand on the ice with so many great Amerks from the past. And if that wasn’t enough, the final introduction was ever so special. The Crow (Joe Crozier) was brought out to a special announcement that he will be inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame as part of the 2012 class. Joe had been very sick over the summer, so it was such a relief to see him up and around. The response of the crowd was heartwarming, and I think Crow will remember it for a long time to come.
Without fail, every former player I talked to said their stay in Rochester was one of the best in their careers. Maybe that’s why so many have made it their homes. It was a real task to try and get the word out to as many of them as possible about the event because we don’t have phone numbers or addresses for them. Fortunately, word-of-mouth was how some heard about it and contacted the Amerks office. But there were so many others that weren’t informed, because no one knows where to reach them.
Here’s what I heard the most from the Alumni in attendance… they were so grateful for the opportunity to return for this great evening… they were in awe of the reception they received from the fans… they want to be informed of other events… they’d like to try and build the contact list to include all former players… they would like to see more and even bigger events like this one… they really want to maintain their ties to the Rochester fans.
This event was a giant step forward for the franchise and especially for helping to rebuild the rich history that the Rochester fans might have taken for granted a few years ago. Unfortunately, the game was a bummer, but it’s going to take a little time to build this team into a competitive AHL team. What I’ve seen so far from the new regime, bringing a winner back to Rochester isn’t just talk; it’s a commitment.
Let’s not waste what happened at the home opener. Let’s keep all the positives going in the right direction. If we all do our parts, the rest will catch up soon.