TONIGHT'S GAME: The Rochester Americans kickoff their 58th season in the American Hockey League tonight as they usher in the 2013-14 campaign against the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins at The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:05 p.m. contest will be the first of four scheduled meetings between the interconference rivals this season and will be broadcast live on Sports 1280 WHTK.
AMERKS FAN GUIDE
AUDIO: CHADD CASSIDY WITH DON STEVENS
FRIDAY'S WEATHER FORECAST
HOME, SWEET HOME: The Amerks enter the 2013-14 season with a 34-17-6 all-time home-opening record and have outscored their opponents 237-178 dating back to when the puck first dropped on Rochester’s inaugural season in 1956. With a victory tonight, the Amerks can post wins in back-to-back home-openers for the first time since 2006-07 and 2007-08. Additionally, Rochester boasts a 28-22-7 all-time record in season-opening games, outscoring its opponents 214-194 over the past 57 years.
WHO'S WHO: Entering its 32nd year as the top development team of the Buffalo Sabres, Rochester returns 16 of its players that played at least one game with the Amerks last season, including forwards Phil Varone and Frederick Roy and defensemen Nick Crawford and Brayden McNabb. Led by team captain Matt Ellis, who is set to begin his first full season in Rochester, the Amerks’ veteran class features a wave of newcomers in the likes of defensemen Alexander Sulzer and Drew Bagnall and perennial AHL All-Star forwards Mike Zigomanis and Jamie Tardif. Zigomanis, a 13-year pro who spent the last three seasons across Lake Ontario as a member of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, brings close to 200 NHL games of experience under his belt to Rochester, including 22 during the 2008-09 season when he helped the Pittsburgh Penguins to their most recent Stanley Cup championship. The Amerks’ offense was also immediately bolstered with the offseason acquisition of Tardif, who is coming off a career-year with the Providence Bruins in 2012-13 that saw him earn AHL All-Star honors as well as make his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins. Acquired at the 2013 NHL trade deadline in a deal with the Minnesota Wild that landed him and Johan Larsson in Rochester in exchange for former Amerk Jason Pominville, goaltender Matt Hackett is primed to take over the starting goaltending duties for the Amerks in 2013-14. Hackett, who backstopped the AHL’ Houston Aeros the last three seasons, posted a 3-0-0 record with a 1.62 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage in three games with the Amerks last season. This year’s roster also features a host of incoming rookies set to make their professional debuts, including forward Johnny McGuire as well as defenseman and West Seneca native Alex Lepkowski.
AMERKS NOTES: Guided by second-year Head Coach Chadd Cassidy, the Amerks enter the season fresh of a successful 2012-13 campaign that saw the team finish with a 43-29-3-1 overall record (90 points) and advance to the postseason for the second straight season and third time in four years. Cassidy, who took over for Sabres coach Ron Rolston on Feb. 20, piloted Rochester to its second straight second-place finish in the AHL’s North Division while leading the Amerks to a franchise-record 10 shootout wins. He and his staff also assembled one of the AHL’s top specials teams units as the Amerks ranked second in penalty kill efficiency (87.0%) while having the fourth-best power-play in the league (20.3%).
GRAND RAPIDS NOTES: Grand Rapids begins its title defense by returning more than a dozen of its members from last season’s Calder Cup championship team, including fourth-year pro Gustav Nyquist, who led the Griffins with 23 goals, 37 assists and 60 points despite playing in just 58 games last season. Grand Rapids, which finished the 2012-13 regular season atop the newly formed Midwest Division with a 42-26-4-4 record, also reunites the goaltending tandem of Petr Mrazek and Tom McCollum. A fifth-round pick of Detroit in 2010, Mrazek played all 24 games in the Griffins’ run to the Calder Cup, leading all netminders with 15 wins and 603 saves in the postseason. The Griffins’ biggest loss, however, comes with the departure of last year’s playoff MVP Tomas Tatar, who after four seasons of playing in Grand Rapids begins the season on full-time duty with the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL. The Ilava, Slovakia, native has scored at least 23 goals in each of his last three seasons with Grand Rapids and finished the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs with a team-high 16 goals and 21 points during the Griffins’ historic run to the franchise’s first AHL title.
WE MEET AGAIN: Amerks veteran forwards Ellis and Tardif, both of whom have captained the Griffins earlier in their careers, have never played against Grand Rapids since departing the organization. Ellis, who became the youngest captain in team history, was a Griffin for four seasons (2002-07) before going onto play 267 games in the NHL with Detroit, Los Angeles and, most recently, the Buffalo Sabres. Tardif, who served as captain for back-to-back years, played five seasons in Grand Rapids between 2006-11, and left as one of the most notable players in franchise history. Tardif finished his career with the Griffins ranked fourth in games played (316), fourth in goals (78), and eighth in points (154) on the franchise’s all-time lists, respectively. Returning to Rochester with the Griffins are former Amerks Nathan Paetsch and Triston Grant. Paetsch played parts of four seasons (2003-06, 2010-11) in Rochester, including nine games with Grant during the 2010-11 campaign, and ranks 31st in scoring among all-time Amerks defensemen with 86 points (21+65) in 215 career games in the red, white and blue.
UP NEXT: The Amerks remain at home on Friday, Oct. 11 as the AHL’s newest franchise, the Utica Comets, make their inaugural visit to The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:05 p.m. contest will be the first-ever meeting between the new intrastate foes with all the action being carried live on Sports 1280 WHTK.
PRE-GAME FESTIVITIES: The special pre-game festivities begin at 4:45 p.m. and will include a special pregame fan greeting by Amerks players, coaches and Alumni, live music from Big Eyed Phish and the first Amerks Happy Hour of the season. The Amerks players who will be suiting up on Opening Night will be in the lower atrium from 4:45 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. greeting fans and signing autographs. At approximately 5:30, the Rochester coaching staff will spend time greeting fans in the atrium. Later on, Amerks broadcasters, Alumni and other players will be out to mingle with fans as well.
SPECIAL TICKET PRICE!: A special Opening Night ticket price of $16 is available for the Home Opener when fans purchase through Ticketmaster.com and enter the offer code “Opener.”
HAPPY HOUR: The Amerks Happy Hour gets underway at 5:00 p.m. in the Upper Atrium Bar and features $2 Molson and Coors Light drafts for fans ages 21 and older. Big Eyed Phish (www.bigeyedphish.com), the Dave Matthews Tribute Band, will perform prior to the game starting at 5:00 p.m. as well as during the first intermission.
MYSTERY PUCK: Friday’s Home Opener will also feature the first “Mystery Puck” of the season, where a limited number of specially-designed Amerks pucks, signed by various players, will be for sale.
MAGNET SCHEUDLE GIVEAWAY: Fans in attendance will receive a 2013-14 Amerks magnet schedule upon entering and can also get their picture taken in a Fan Photo Booth set up in the Atrium.