DON STEVENS BLOG: LOOK WHAT'S HAPPENED IN ONE, SHORT YEARBlogs | 12/30/2011 4:58:00 PM | Don Stevens
LOOK WHAT’S HAPPENED IN ONE, SHORT YEAR
Last year at this time, we were sitting here, watching another Amerks team trying to keep it’s head above water. On December 30th, they beat Toronto to bring the record back to .500 (16-16-2-1). At that time, they were tied for the basement spot in the North Division standings. The team did have an excellent February, picking up 17 points and on February 27th, it was the “high point” of the season as the Amerks were finally two games OVER .500 (29-27-3-3). Two games over was the best they did all season and it went down the tubes from there.
So a year later, the team is three games over .500 (15-12-4-1), sitting only a point out of first place in the division, and holding on to the final spot in the conference playoff race. On the ice, it’s not a gigantic improvement yet, but it is an improvement, and promises to get even better.
Off the ice, by this time last year, the Amerks had already given the Florida Panthers written notification that they would not renew their current affiliation agreement. Basically, the two sides stopped communicating, leaving the rest of us twiddling our thumbs, and wondering what the future of the organization was going to be.
January 2nd, the Amerks dropped back into last place in the North Division and, except for two days, stayed there the rest of the season. Another season out of the playoffs. No prospects for a new parent team. In fact, we were almost out of possibilities for who could be the next “talent supplier.” It was looking mighty bleak. What’s the saying, something like, “the night is always the darkest before the dawn.”
In late May, we heard our first rumors that the new owner of the Sabres and the owner of the Amerks had actually been talking about the possibility of the team being sold to the Sabres. At that point, it was a glimmer of hope, but you didn’t want to get too excited because the chances of that happening were very slim. And don’t get me wrong, the excitement was about the possibility of an ownership change, but rather that the Sabres might again become the parent club. But the Sabres were locked into an affiliation agreement in Portland.
Into mid-June, the rumors persisted and kept getting stronger. Finally, the announcement was made and a press conference was held announcing Terry Pegula, and the Buffalo Sabres, as the new owner of the Rochester Americans. While there was great joy amongst the Amerks’ fans, and the community as a whole, for those of us employed by Curt Styres, the time of anticipation wasn’t quite over. Did we still have jobs?
Fortunately, Sabres management didn’t waste any time. They began talking to the staff the next day. More emotional highs and lows, some of us were retained, while others weren’t. It was such mixed emotions. Believe me, I was extremely relieved when they said they wanted me to stay on, but on the other hand, my heart was heavy for those that weren’t offered jobs.
So, in a few days, the dust settled. The rest of the summer was spent trying to get to know the new organization and what was expected of each person. Right away, we knew things were going to be quite different. There were a lot of new faces appearing in the office. We started to see a load of new equipment coming through the door, more hardware than we’d seen in the previous 15 years. There was a new phone system, a new computer system, some physical changes in the office décor. A new, and much, much, much larger coaching staff was introduced. Things were moving very rapidly.
Through all of this, the staff had to try and get ready for the next season to begin. Time “flew” by, there just wasn’t enough time to get ready, but everyone did a great job and somehow things all fell into place.
There wasn’t much of a training camp in Rochester, and only one pre-season game (more like a scrimmage) to get to know all the new players. We basically just jumped right into the new season. The first game, played in Hamilton was a (5-2) loss. Then it was the home opener. What an outstanding night for the franchise with pre-game ceremonies where fans got to see many of the past greats. The ceremonies were so well planned and executed and it was a night to remember. And then the team lost 5-1. So in two games, the Amerks were 0-2, allowing 10 goals and scoring only three. WHAT HAD WE GOTTEN IN TO?
After that, it was three straight wins and points in the next five straight games. Things were looking a little brighter……a sigh of relief. Then the recall and injury barrage began. The whole organization was soon stretched to the limits. It was a nightly struggle for both the Sabres and Amerks to put together a complete roster each game.
But, the players recalled from Rochester to Buffalo were performing extremely well. The players in Rochester that were seeing limited ice time were filling in the gaps very admirably. And some of the players brought into Rochester also made excellent contributions. Even though it’s been a struggle, the Amerks have managed to stay near the top of the division and near the middle in the overall league standings.
The thing this year is it’s not a feeling of just trying to hold on to what has been accomplished, but there’s much more of an upside. There’s great anticipation for a strong finish, if the organization can get through the injury-fest. The team has finished 2011 in strong fashion. They are in a much better position in the standings. The attendance is vastly improved. The feeling of stability has grown by leaps and bounds. The feeling in the community toward this team is so much more positive.
So much has happened in just one year. For 2011, our gratitude goes out to Curt Styres and his staff for laying the foundation, and then to Terry Pegula and his staff for beginning the reconstruction of this great franchise. If it grows as much in 2012 as it has in 2011, watch out AHL. THE AMERKS ARE BACK !!!!!!
Thanks to all of you for your support this past year. Have a Very Safe and Happy New Year. Hope to see you at every game in 2012.