News | 2/7/2012 5:07:03 PM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS

Photo: Micheline Veluvolu

WEEKLY NOTES: The second half of the 2011-12 American Hockey League season is well underway, and with the All-Star break now a thing of the past, the league’s 30 teams are in a race to the finish with the makings of what could be an exciting end to the regular season for an invitation to the annual postseason party. For the Rochester Americans, the long journey to the Calder Cup Playoffs began when the puck dropped in October, but thanks in part to a strong start after the break, the Amerks remain in a prime position for postseason contention with 29 games remaining. Despite a rather demanding 12-game month, one that has the team playing a season-high nine games at home, February has already proven to be successful for the Amerks, who show three wins in their last four games and have collected seven out of a possible eight points entering the latter stages of the campaign. Looking ahead, Rochester’s busy week features three games in the next four days, beginning with a midweek tilt in Toronto, where the Amerks look to close the gap with the Marlies, before returning home to host Texas and San Antonio on back-to-back nights at The Blue Cross Arena.

Thursday, Feb. 2 vs. Abbotsford – W, 3-0…
The Rochester Americans kicked off their busy month of February with a 3-0 win over the Abbotsford Heat at The Blue Cross Arena. David Leggio was spectacular between the pipes for the Amerks all night, turning aside all 33 Abbotsford shots to earn his first shutout of the season. The 27-year-old goaltender’s first-star performance was highlighted by a pair of breakaway denials early in the third period to protect Rochester’s lead. Nick Crawford, Phil Varone, and Travis Turnbull each contributed a goal apiece offensively for Rochester, while Marcus Foligno chipped in a pair of assists for the Amerks, who scored at even strength, shorthanded and on the power-play in front of a crowd 4,483. Paul Szczechura and Brayden McNabb each had an assist as well, as McNabb was playing in his first game with the Amerks since Nov. 25 after being re-assigned from the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the day.

Friday, Feb. 3 vs. Abbotsford – OTL, 3-2… Looking for the two-game sweep over their former North Division rivals, the Amerks rallied from a two-goal deficit to force overtime and gain a point, but former Amerk Clay Wilson scored 22 seconds into the extra frame for his third point of the night to secure the 3-2 win for Abbotsford. Igor Gongalsky and Szczechura both lit the lamp for Rochester, who rallied back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game midway through the third period. Leggio turned away 29 shots in his third straight start between the pipes before a crowd of 5,871.

Saturday, Feb. 4 @ Syracuse – W, 5-4… A hat-trick and a four-point performance from Szczechura helped Rochester complete a two-goal third period rally to defeat the Syracuse Crunch 5-4 in overtime at the War Memorial at Oncenter on Saturday night. Szczechura tied the game late in regulation time and capped off his impressive night with the game-winning goal with 1:07 to go in the extra session, extending his point streak to four games along the way. The win represented the 100th win in franchise history for the Amerks over the cross-state rival Crunch. McNabb and Foligno each contributed two assists, while Varone and Turnbull both scored a goal apiece. Goaltender Drew MacIntyre turned away 33 shots to earn his first win since December 27.

THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS: Fresh off their recent three-game weekend to begin the new month, the Amerks enter yet another busy stretch this week with three games in the next four days, beginning on Wednesday, February 8 when they head north of the border for an 11:00 a.m. matinee with the first-place Toronto Marlies at Ricoh Coliseum. The contest will be the sixth of 10 get-togethers this season between the North Division rivals and will be broadcast live on WBER 90.5 FM. The game also marks the second time in as many weeks the two teams have exchanged pleasantries. Rochester prevailed in the most recent meeting with Toronto back on January 28, earning a 2-1 win on goals from Derek Whitmore and Zack Kassian for its first triumph over the Marlies this season. Toronto, however, maintains the upper hand in the season series, having won the first four games with the Amerks, two of which were decided in overtime.

Rochester returns home on Friday, February 10 to welcome the inaugural visit from the West Division Texas Stars to The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:35 p.m. contest will be the second and final gathering of the season between the interconference rivals and will be carried live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. The Stars, top developmental team of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, scored six unanswered goals to overturn a two-goal disadvantage en route to a 6-2 win over the Amerks in the first-ever meeting between the two teams back on December 17 at the Cedar Park Center.

The San Antonio Rampage make their first trip in over three years to Western New York when they visit The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday, February 11. Game time is slated for a 7:35 p.m. start and can be heard live on 107.3 FM and 1280 AM, Rochester’s Sports Talk. Rochester is 0-0-1-0 this season against the Rampage after dropping a 3-2 overtime decision in San Antonio nearly two months ago. The game will feature the return of several former faces familiar to the Flower City, especially for Rampage head coach Chuck Weber and assistant coach Jason Cipolla, who both shared the bench in the same capacity in Rochester last season. Cipolla served as the Amerks assistant coach for four seasons (2007-11), finishing his tenure in Rochester with a 128-172-20 record (287 points) in 320 career games. Several Rampage players also called Rochester their home in 2010-11, including Bill Thomas, Mark Cullen, Michal Repik, Colby Robak, Michael Caruso and Jacob Markstrom to name a few.

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.

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.

Also on Saturday, the Amerks will celebrate the birthday of their longtime mascot, The Moose. The Amerks’ furry friend will be joined by many of his mascot friends to celebrate the evening, including Scooby Doo, who will be making a special appearance at the game, as well as other local mascots. More than a dozen mascots will be in attendance to mingle with fans, pose for pictures and compete in an on-ice broom ball game during the second intermission. In addition, 2,500 fans in attendance will receive a free Amerks folder courtesy of Wendy’s.

AMERKS NOTES: Rochester (21-17-6-3, 51 points) enters the week after claiming five out of a possible six points in what turned out to be a rather successful start to the month of February. Beginning with an impressive 3-0 whitewash over Abbotsford, the Amerks have won three of their last four games and have collected 15 points through their last 15 outings as they remain just four points behind division-leading Toronto for the top spot in the American Hockey League’s North Division standings. Rochester, who owns the second-best winning percentage (.543) among division rivals, is also 5-4-1-0 in its last 10 games and brings a four-game point streak (3-0-1-0) into the new week. February’s arduous 12-game schedule has the Amerks playing a season-high nine games within the comforts of home, which includes a four-game homestand in the latter part of the month.

‘CHEWY’ NAMED THE WEEK’S BEST: The American Hockey League announced Monday that Rochester Americans center Paul Szczechura has been selected as the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Feb. 5, 2012. In three games last week, Szczechura tallied four goals and two assists for six points as the Americans went 2-0-1-0. Szczechura notched an assist in Rochester’s 3-0 win over Abbotsford on Feb. 2, and scored the game-tying goal in the third period as the Amerks earned a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Heat the next night. Finally, Szczechura scored both the game-tying and game-winning goals in a 5-4 overtime win at Syracuse on Feb. 4, capping a four-point night and his first career hat trick.

AMERKS REACH MILESTONE WIN OVER CRUNCH: It took nearly 18 years of a longstanding rivalry and almost 200 all-time meetings, but Rochester successfully reached 100 regular season wins over the Syracuse Crunch with its 5-4 overtime victory this past Saturday at the War Memorial at Oncenter. The only other foe to yield a 100+ wins in the 56-year history of the franchise are the Hershey Bears, who to date, have surrendered 184 games in 443 lifetime encounters with the Amerks.

WHO’S HOT: Coming off his season-high four-point game (3+1) that also included his first career hat trick, Szczechura enters the week in the midst of a four-game point streak (4+3) and is one of four players to have points in at least three straight games. More remarkably, Szczechura has recorded nine points (5+4) in as many games and has already moved into fourth on the team in scoring. Varone, presently riding a three-game point streak (2+1), shows 21 points in his last 24 games for a total of 27 points (7+20) on the season, 19 of which have come over the last month. Foligno, meanwhile, is on the heels of a four-game assist streak (0+6) and shows 16 points (3+13) in his last 18 games, a stretch that includes five multi-point appearances, including two in his last three games. Turnbull, too, has posted points in three consecutive outings to make up for a three-game stretch from January 21 to January 27 that held him scoreless. Kassian shows eight points (4+4) in his last 10 games back with the Amerks, while T.J. Brennan, who carried a career-best seven-game point streak (3+5) into 2012, shows 10 points (3+7) in his last 11 games and has only been held scoreless three times during that stretch. McNabb (0+3) and Crawford (1+1) also have points in two of their last three games.

TEAM AND LEAGUE LEADERS: With impressive numbers through their last four games, Foligno and Varone have quickly found themselves to be Rochester’s top two point-getters with 28 and 27 points, respectively, placing them both among the league’s top 20 rookies in overall scoring. Foligno is also one of nine league rookies to currently pace his team in scoring. Whitmore, however, still shows a team-best 17 goals and 150 shots on goal. His 17 goals rank him tied for 18th among the AHL’s top goal scorers, while he also ranks eighth in the AHL in shots on goal. With 10 helpers through his last 16 games, Varone has taken over the team lead with 20 assists. Mark Voakes is one of just two Amerks players to appear in all 47 games thus far along with Varone. Defenseman Joe Finley leads Rochester with 85 penalty minutes and a team-best +12 on-ice rating. Foligno ranks tied for eighth in the AHL with four game-winning goals this season, which are the most among first-year skaters.

Leggio, who has started four of the last five games for the Amerks, boasts a 14-12-1 record with a 2.70 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 27 games. Coming off his first shutout of the season in a 33-save effort last Thursday against Abbotsford, he presently ranks seventh among AHL netminders in saves (794) and tied for 12th in wins. He’s also 13th in minutes played (1,602) and 13th in save percentage. Leggio enters the week with a 2.30 goals-against average, a .938 save percentage and 360 saves over his last 10 starts, which includes a season-high 49-save performance in a 4-3 shootout loss in Hershey on January 8.

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, two of Rochester’s top three scorers are currently in their first pro season, both of which are separated by just one point for the team lead in scoring. The Amerks have scored 130 goals through the first 47 games this season, but more impressively, 34 have been netted 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.

BY THE NUMBERS: The Amerks are 9-7-3-1 (22 points) this season against North Division rivals, but show a 12-10-3-2 (29 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. The third period has been the Amerks’ strong suit thus far as the club has accounted for 45 goals while allowing 32. The Amerks have scored the first goal in just 24 of the first 47 games of the campaign and show a 15-7-1-1 record when doing so, including an 8-3-0-0 mark at home. Rochester is also 11-0-1-0 when leading after two periods, a streak that also comes with an unblemished 7-0-0-0 mark at home.

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: Eleven of the last 17 games for the Amerks have been decided by one goal, including three of the last four. Of Rochester’s 47 games thus far this season, 26 of them have been determined by a one-goal difference, 15 of which were settled either in overtime or via the shootout, for an 11-6-6-3 mark in favor of the Amerks.

HOME, SWEET HOME: Home-ice advantage has certainly been a factor in Rochester’s recent success as the Amerks are 8-5-2-0 in their last 15 games at home. After beginning the season with just two home wins in the first five, the Amerks show a 12-7-2-1 record (27 points) this season when playing in their downtown barn. Conversely, Rochester is 9-10-4-2 (24 points) away from the friendly confines of The Blue Cross Arena.

SPECIAL TEAMS BREAKDOWN: The Amerks have gone 23-for-151 (15.2%) on the power-play over their last 34 games, which includes going 1-for-1 Saturday in Syracuse. On the penalty kill, however, Rochester has successfully killed off 157-of-195 (80.5%) shorthanded situations, including 83 of 97 at home for an 85.6% efficiency rate, good enough for the league’s sixth-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’s next win will represent the 50th of his AHL career while injured Evan 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. Team captain Colin Stuart is on the verge of yet another personal milestone, needing just 11 more points for 200 in his AHL career.

DAY                                         TIME                                        LOCATION
Monday, February 6               10:30 a.m. practice                 Blue Cross Arena                   
Tuesday, February 7               10:00 a.m. practice                 Blue Cross Arena
                                               Leave for Toronto after practice
Wednesday, February 8         11:00 a.m. @ Toronto           Ricoh Coliseum                      
Thursday, February 9              10:30 a.m. practice                 Blue Cross Arena
Friday, February 10                 10:00 a.m. gameday skate     Blue Cross Arena
                                               7:35 p.m. vs. Texas                 Blue Cross Arena
Saturday, February 11            10:00 a.m. gameday skate     Blue Cross Arena
                                               7:35 p.m. vs. San Antonio     Blue Cross Arena
Sunday, February 12               Day Off                                    ----                  
*schedule subject to change