AMERKS OPEN UP AN EVENTFUL AND HOCKEY-FILLED DECEMBER THIS WEEKNews | 12/3/2013 8:10:07 PM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS
THIS WEEK’S STORYLINE
Countdown to the Frozen Frontier Begins – Just three days removed from completing their busiest month of the season, the Rochester Americans are yet again faced with another arduous stretch of games heading into the New Year. Despite playing their fewest amount of games in a single month this season, the Amerks embark on an eventful December that has the team playing three consecutive weeks of three games in four nights in which Rochester will only see five different opponents. The highlight of the month, and the 2013-14 American Hockey League season, comes in just 10 days time, when the Amerks host the North Division rival Lake Erie Monsters in the first-ever outdoor game in franchise history at Frontier Field in the premier event of the 2013 Greater Rochester Area Honda Dealers Frozen Frontier presented by Labatt. Coupled with the outdoor game, the month of December also features a 12-day break in the regular season schedule for the Amerks, who will make their way overseas to participate in the prestigious Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland the week of Dec. 26-31. With wins in two of their last three games, including a decisive 5-3 victory over the Monsters, the Amerks begin the new month three points out of first place in the AHL’s North Division and tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Looking ahead this week, Rochester looks to gain some ground in the division standings with a midweek tilt against intrastate rival Utica before hitting the road for a weekend set in Michigan against the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins.
WHERE THEY CURRENTLY STAND
Home: 6-3-1-1, 14 points
Away: 3-5-1-1, 8 points
Overall: 9-8-2-2, 22 points
Overall: T-17th in the AHL
Western Conference: T-8th
North Division: 3rd
AMERKS STATISTICAL LEADERS
Goals: Luke Adam (13)
Assists: Phil Varone (6)
Points: Phil Varone (21)
Power-Play Goals: Luke Adam (7)
Power-Play Assists: Phil Varone, Brayden McNabb (8)
Shorthanded Goals: Mike Zigomanis, Jamie Tardif, Rasmus Ristolainen, Joel Arma (1)
Shorthanded Assists: Phil Varone (1)
Plus/Minus: Mike Zigomanis (+7)
Shots: Phil Varone, Jamie Tardif (60)
Penalty Minutes: Frederick Roy (64)
Games Played: Five tied at 21
Wins: Nathan Lieuwen (5)
Losses: Matt Hackett (7)
GAA: Matt Hackett (3.06)
SV%: Matt Hackett (.906)
Saves: Matt Hackett (396)
Minutes: Matt Hackett (803:57)
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS
Wednesday, Nov. 27 vs. Hamilton – 6-3 W
Kevin Porter and Rasmus Ristolainen each scored twice and Phil Varone notched three assists to power the Amerks to a 6-3 win over the North Division rival Hamilton Bulldogs Wednesday night at The Blue Cross Arena. The victory snapped a four-game losing skid for the Amerks. Jamie Tardif registered a goal and an assist, while Johan Larsson rounded out the scoring with his first goal of the season. Chad Ruhwedel, Colton Gillies and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc all added assists in the win for the Amerks. Nathan Lieuwen made 27 saves in net for his fourth win of the season.
Friday, Nov. 29 vs. Lake Erie – 5-3 W
Varone’s fifth goal of the season with 1:58 remaining in regulation broke a 3-3 tie as the Amerks sunk the Lake Erie Monsters by a 5-3 score Friday night at The Blue Cross Arena. Larsson notched a goal and an assist for the Amerks, while Joel Armia, Frederick Roy and Tardif also scored. Ristolainen added two assists for his second straight two-point outing as Gillies and Porter both finished with assists on the night. Lieuwen won his second consecutive game in net with 33 saves.
Saturday, Nov. 30 at Toronto – 3-2 L
Despite mounting another late-game comeback, Rochester ultimately could not overcome a two-goal deficit, falling to the North Division rival Toronto Marlies Saturday afternoon at Ricoh Coliseum. The loss snapped a brief two-game winning streak for the Amerks, who closed out the month of November in sole possession of second place in the American Hockey League’s North Division standings. Tardif and Matt MacKenzie provided the Rochester goals, while Matt Hackett stopped 26 of 29 shots in his first game back between the pipes. Matt Ellis, Larsson and Gilles also finished with assists in the loss for the Amerks.
THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS
Wednesday, Dec. 4 vs. Utica – Season Series: 3-2-0-0, 6 points
The Utica Comets (6-11-1-1, 14 points) make their fourth visit of the season when they come to town on Wednesday, Dec. 4 for a North Division showdown at The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:05 p.m. contest will be the sixth of 10 meetings between the intrastate foes this season and will be broadcast live on Sports 1280 WHTK. Rochester maintains the upper-hand in the season series with a 3-2-0-0 record despite dropping the previous two get-togethers in a recent home-and-home series against Utica. The Amerks, however, opened the campaign with three straight wins over the Comets, outscoring Utica 16-7 over that span, including a 6-4 victory on home ice back on Oct. 19. Veteran forward Mike Zigomanis registered a game-high four points (2+2) in the win, which also saw the Amerks post season-highs for the most goals scored in a game (6) and the most goals scored in a period (3). Zigomanis leads Rochester with a team-high seven points (3+4) in five games against Utica, while Lieuwen boasts a 2-1-0 record in three games versus the Comets. After opening its inaugural campaign with 10 straight losses, Utica comes to the Flower City with four wins in its last five games, including the franchise’s first-ever win at home over Rochester on Nov. 23, and is coming off a two-game sweep of the Abbotsford Heat most recently. Additionally, the Comets are in the midst of a five-game road winning streak dating back to 3-2 triumph over Lake Erie on Nov. 8. Despite their recent success, however, the AHL’s newest members remain in the basement of the league standings with an AHL-worst six wins, while its offense continues to struggle with a league-low 40 goals thus far this season.
Opponent Spotlight: Guided by rookie head coach Travis Green, the Comets return to Rochester fueled by veteran forward Pascal Pelletier, who shows a team-high 18 points (5+13) and a plus-five on-ice rating in 15 games with Utica this season. Pelletier, who returned to the AHL this season following a three-year stint in the Swiss-A league, carries a five-game point streak into Wednesday’s game and has notched a goal and an assist in each of his last two outings. More impressively, the 10-year pro opened the campaign with at least one point in each of his first six games and has been held scoreless only twice this season. Pelletier currently ranks tied for 15th in the AHL in assists and is one of just two Comets skaters playing at a point-per-game pace. The latest addition to the Utica offense comes in the form of two-time AHL All-Star Cal O’Reilly, who’s played in 113 NHL games and has amassed 268 points over 293 career AHL games with Milwaukee, Portland, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Utica.
Friday, December 6 at Grand Rapids – Season Series: 0-1-0-0, 0 points
Rochester makes its way north on Friday, Dec. 6 for the first of back-to-back tilts against the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins (15-4-1-1, 32 points) at Van Andel Arena. The 7:00 p.m. contest will be the second of just four meetings between the interconference rivals this season and will be carried live on Sports 1280 WHTK. The Amerks look to level the playing field after the Griffins handed Rochester an 8-1 loss on opening night in the teams’ only other get-together this season back on Oct. 4 at The Blue Cross Arena. The loss marked the most lopsided defeat in franchise season-opening history. Grand Rapids’ title defense has the Griffins sitting in second place in the AHL’s Western Conference with a commanding seven-point cushion atop the Midwest Division. Fresh off their two-game sweep of the Texas Stars over the weekend, the Griffins, who are currently in the middle of a season-long seven-game homestand, have wins in 13 of their last 15 games, including each of their last five and six straight at home. Grand Rapids also posted a seven-game winning streak during that same stretch, outscoring their opponents 32-14 in that span. The Griffins’ recent success can also be attributed to their dominant two-way play at both ends of the ice, scoring at least five goals for the sixth consecutive home game while limiting its opponent to no more than a single goal for the fourth time in its last five outings. Grand Rapids, which has scored five or more goals in nine of its first 21 games this season, boasts the best offense in the AHL, averaging a league-best 3.86 goals-per-game and ranking second overall with 81 total tallies. Defensively, the Griffins have allowed the second-fewest amount of goals in the league with 51, good for a 2.43 goals-against average. Additionally, Grand Rapids owns the second-best power-play unit at home with a 26.7% efficiency rate and shows a league-best 12-0-0-1 record when leading after two periods.
Saturday, Dec. 7 at Grand Rapids – Season Series: 0-1-0-0, 0 points
The Amerks and Griffins square off again for the second straight night in the back-end of the two-game set on Saturday, Dec. 7 at Van Andel Arena. Game time is slated for an 8:00 p.m. start with all the action being carried live on Sports 1280 WHTK.
Opponent Spotlight: Grand Rapids returns 17 of its players from last year’s championship squad, including top point-getter Tomas Jurco, who leads the Griffins in all offensive categories and ranks tied for seventh in scoring in the AHL with 23 points (10+13) in 21 games. Jurco shows four points (1+3) in as many games and notched his first career hat trick against Rockford on Nov. 15. Rookie defenseman Ryan Sproul is fifth on the team and sixth among AHL blueliners with 15 points (5+10) and is one of seven Griffins to rank among the top 13 in the league in plus/minus. Grand Rapids also owns one of the best goaltending tandems in the league in Tom McCollum and Petr Mrazek, who each have appeared in 11 games and boast nearly identical numbers. McCollum is 7-2-0 this season and presently ranks eighth and 10th among league netminders in save percentage (.922) and goals-against average (2.28), respectively. His counterpart, Mrazek, who played all 24 games in the Griffins’ run to the Calder Cup, shows an 8-2-1 record and ranks 11th among backstops with a 2.29 goals-against average.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW FOR THE WEEK…
ROSTER SHAKE-UP: The Amerks’ roster was bolstered by two following the recent reassignment of forward Larsson and Ristolainen to Rochester after the pair began the season with the parent Buffalo Sabres. Ristolainen, whose 19 games with the Sabres were the most among the two, is in his first North American season after spending the previous three years playing in the Finnish league with his hometown TPS Turku. Larsson makes his first return to Rochester, where he joined the Amerks for the final seven games of the regular season in 2012-13 and finished third overall with 41 points (16+25) in 69 combined AHL games between Rochester and Houston. With the recent influx of talent, the Amerks now have three first-round draft picks in their lineup, including Ristolainen (8th overall in 2013), Armia (16th overall, 2011) and Gillies (16th overall, 2007).
ONE, TWO PUNCH: The Amerks have one of the more elite offensive pairings in Larsson and Ristolainen. The duo has been the Amerks’ most consistent point-producers since their arrival to Rochester on Nov. 19, combining for 13 points (4+9) over their first six games, including back-to-back outings with multiple points each. Larsson and Ristolainen have recorded at least one point in the same game twice this season, helping the Amerks go 2-0-0-0 over that stretch.
THE BEST OFFENSE IS A GOOD DEFENSE: Much of Rochester’s recent success can be attributed to the increase in offensive contributions from its defensemen. Over the last 19 games, Amerks blueliners have recorded 43 points (13+30). The Amerks are 4-2-2-1 so far this season when a defenseman scores a goal.
SPECIAL TEAMS BREAKDOWN: Rochester’s power-play has been one of the most potent in the AHL over the last 20 games, scoring 24 times on 100 man-advantage opportunities for a 24.0% efficiency rate over that span. The Amerks, who have scored at least one power-play goal in 14 of their first 21 games this season, including three in last Wednesday’s win over Hamilton, currently have the third-best power-play in the league with a 22.9% overall success rate. Rochester also has the fifth-best unit on the road (20.8%) and the fourth-most productive power-play at home (25.0%).
BY THE NUMBERS: The Amerks are 9-3-1-1 (20 points) this season against North Division rivals, but show an 0-5-1-1 (2 points) mark versus non-divisional foes. The Amerks have scored the first goal in 14 of the first 21 games this season and show an 8-3-1-2 record when doing so, including a 5-1-1-1 mark at home. Rochester is also 7-0-0-1 when leading after two periods, a streak that also shows an unblemished 5-0-0-0 mark at home.
HOME ICE ADVANTAGE: With points in eight of their last 10 home games, including a four-game winning streak from Oct. 11 to Nov. 6, the Amerks currently have the seventh-best home record in the AHL with a mark of 6-3-1-1 (14 points) through their first 11 home matchups of the season.
WHO’S HOT: Veteran forward Jamie Tardif is currently riding a three-game point streak (3+1) and has found the back of the net in each of his last three games… Larsson is also in the midst of a three-game point streak (2+3), a stretch that features consecutive multi-point efforts of a goal and an assist… Gillies, meanwhile, has recorded an assist in each of his last three appearances… Fresh off a three-point (2+1) game against Hamilton last Wednesday, Porter has collected five points (3+2) over his last six contests and Ristolainen shows four points (2+2) over his last five games… With points in all but seven games this season, Varone remains Rochester’s most consistent point-getter. After seeing his eight-game point streak snapped last month against Hamilton, Varone picked up right where he left off by collecting nine points (3+6) over his last 12 games. Varone’s eight-game assist streak also remains the longest in the AHL to date.
MILESTONE WATCH: After appearing in his 400th pro game at Hamilton on Oct. 25, veteran defenseman Drew Bagnall is slated to skate in his 400th AHL game Wednesday vs. Utica… Amerks captain Matt Ellis is four games away from 400 in the AHL and needs another eight goals to reach the 100-mark for his AHL career… Forward Alex Hutchings needs four more points to hit the century mark for his pro career… Larsson is 15 games shy of 200 pro appearances and needs another seven points for 100 in his career… Tardif needs just another 10 games to join the 500-club.
AMERKS QUICK HITS
Score with Subway! – With an Amerks victory during any regular season home game during the 2013-14 season, fans can log onto amerks.com to download a coupon good for one free regular six-inch sub with the purchase of a 30 oz drink. If the Amerks do not happen to win, fans still score with Subway by logging onto amerks.com to download a coupon for two free cookies the following day at participating Subway restaurants in the Rochester area. Restrictions apply. The coupons are only good the day after each Amerks home game at participating Subway restaurants in the greater Rochester area.
A PREVIEW OF WHAT’S TO COME
Frozen Frontier – The highlight of the 2013-14 seasons comes on Friday, Dec. 13 when the Amerks host the Lake Erie Monsters in the first-ever outdoor game in franchise history at Frontier Field. The game will be the premier event of the “Greater Rochester Area Honda Dealers Frozen Frontier presented by Labatt”, a 10-day festival to celebrate the game of hockey at all levels. In addition to the Amerks game, the event will also include a college hockey double-header for the RIT men’s and women’s hockey programs, several Section V High School hockey games, and an Alumni game featuring the return of former Sabres and Amerks players to downtown Rochester.
Spengler Cup – The Amerks will spend the holidays overseas after the team accepted its invitation to participate in the prestigious Spengler Cup tournament in Davos, Switzerland. The Spengler Cup is a six-team tournament that takes place each year from Dec. 26-31, hosted by HC Davos of Switzerland’s elite National League A. This will be the second time that an American Hockey League team will participate in the Spengler Cup as Rochester also competed in the 1996 event, finishing third. They remain the only professional hockey club from North America ever to take part in the tournament.
THIS MONTH IN AMERKS HISTORY
Dec. 1, 1972 – Dave Hrechosky becomes the second player in team history to score four goals in a game.
Dec. 9, 1956 – Amerks Hall of Famer Bronco Horvath records the first-ever hat trick in team history in a 6-0 rout over visiting Springfield.
Dec. 17, 2004 – A 3-2 win over St. John’s becomes the first of a franchise-record 17-game winning streak straight at home, one that remained intact until March 4, 2005.
Dec. 22, 1979 – Daryl Drader nets the 6,000th goal in franchise history in a 6-5 loss to New Brunswick.
Dec. 26, 1983 – Future Hall of Famer Geordie Robertson sets franchise records for most assists (6) and points in a single game (7).
Dec. 26, 2010 – The Amerks celebrate their 15,000th franchise goal courtesy of Jeff LoVecchio in a 5-2 win over Syracuse.
Dec. 28, 2012 – Rochester sets a franchise record as 19,070 fans pack into the First Niagara Center to watch the Amerks defeat the Lake Erie Monsters. The capacity crowd was the largest to ever see an Amerks home game and the sixth-largest in the history of the AHL.
Dec. 29, 1982 – Rochester matches a 10-year old record by scoring 10 goals in a road game against the Maine Mariners.
THIS WEEK’S SCHEDULE*
Monday, Dec. 2
Tuesday, Dec. 3
10:00 a.m.: Practice, Bill Gray’s Regional Iceplex
Wednesday, Dec. 4
10:00 a.m.: Morning Skate, Blue Cross Arena
7:05 p.m.: Rochester vs. Utica, Blue Cross Arena
Leave for Grand Rapids after game
Thursday, Dec. 5
12:30 p.m.: Practice, Van Andel Arena
Friday, Dec. 6
11:15 a.m.: Morning Skate, Van Andel Arena
7:00 p.m.: Rochester at Grand Rapids, Van Andel Arena
Saturday, Dec. 7
8:00 p.m.: Rochester at Grand Rapids, Van Andel Arena
Sunday, Dec. 8