Sunday, July 26, 2015

Don Stevens talks Rochester Americans, Pt.2

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This is the second in a two part series on the present state of the Rochester Americans this off-season. Part 1, looked at the growth of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which has become a huge organization.

"It feels like, at times, we're falling further down the totem pole," said long-time Rochester Americans broadcaster Don Stevens, "especially since the addition of the Buffalo Bills. A whole lot more concentration goes to them at this point, but of course they're coming up on their season very soon."

As mentioned in the previous piece, in the beginning there was a man, Terry Pegula, who wanted to buy a hockey team, the Buffalo Sabres, and in just over four years that beginning grew into a huge organization. Pegula Sports and Enterainment, the umbrella company, now has in the fold, the Sabres, Buffalo Bills, HARBORCENTER, the Buffalo Bandits lacrosse team, Black Rock Entertainment a music company based in Nashville and has a number of satellite business associated with them. The recently purchased Bills sits atop the organization as the behemoth while the Sabres and the USA Hockey-centric HARBORCENTER represent Terry Pegula's love for the sport and hist desire to make downtown Buffalo the center of USA hockey.

And then there's the Rochester Americans, the minnow in the big pond.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Don Stevens talks Rochester Americans, Pt. 1

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Don Stevens has been around the Rochester Americans for a long time and he's seen a multitude of changes not only with the Amerks, but for the league itself. He started doing broadcasting for the Amerks during the 1986-87 season when the American Hockey League had 13 teams. A couple of names you might know who skated in the AHL that season were Hall of Famer Brett Hull, who was with the Moncton Wild Cats and Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau, a center for the Nova Scotia Oilers that year.

During his first season the Amerks won the Calder Cup, their second of the decade, fifth of six since their inception. "Since [that first game]," reads No. 2 on his bio-list of most memorable moments, "there have been lots of memorable moments. One of the best was going to the championship in my first year and winning it at Sherbrooke, and coming home to the thousands of people at the airport at 4:00 in the morning.”

He also mentions in the bio that going to the Calder Cup Finals in seven of his first 14 years behind the mic "is just an incredible statistic."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The dog-days of summer putting a crimp UFA's including Cody Franson

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Mid-July through August are truly the dog-days of summer for the NHL as teams step back from a long season and events of the past few weeks to refresh themselves. This is not to say that the front office is out and about enjoying the great outdoors or getting in a early round of 18 before an evening cookout daily, it's merely a downshift from the overdrive that was the NHL draft and the beginning of free agency.

Most teams have concluded their prospect evaluations via development camps (if they have them,) and sent their youngins on their merry way. Left are the impressions as to who where each player lies on the developmental curve and the timeline for their potential debut in the NHL. When taken as a whole, events at the NHL draft, free agent signings and a close look at a team's pipeline give the personnel department a good idea as to what they'll have going into training camp.

In general, teams likely have a good idea as to where they are and what they'll need personnel-wise to get to where they want to be this fall. For free agents who've yet be signed, there's a reason they haven't been signed and summertime doesn't necessarily represent livin' easy. Rather, it can be an unsettling time where younger veterans are trying to maximize their worth and older veterans are wondering whether or not they're still wanted.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

More RFA signings for Buffalo

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Back on June 29th, the Buffalo Sabres tendered qualifying offers to seven of their restricted free agents, and as of yesterday only one remains unsigned.

On Monday of this week versatile forward Phil Varone agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the team. The 5'10" 185 lb. Varone played in 28 games for the Sabres last season, including a stint on the top line, scoring five points (3+2) while averaging 13:26 minutes of ice-time/game. The two-way deal would indicate Varone's slated for Rochester unless he blows the team away with an exceptional training camp.

The following day D, Mark Pysyk signed a two-year deal. Pysyk has largely been a victim of circumstance in the debacle that was the last two seasons, and despite his readiness to play with the big club he was limited to only seven games in Buffalo, yet in those games he scored two goals and added an assist in 18:10 TOI. The smooth and steady, puck-moving defenseman with shutdown acumen looks to be penciled in on the second pairing at this point.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Johnny Oduya heads to Dallas while Mark Pysyk re-ups in Buffalo

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Free agent defenseman Johnny Oduya is a left-handed, top-four d-man that Sabres GM Tim Murray was interested in bringing to Buffalo. But the two-time Stanley Cup winner took his talents to Dallas and signed a very team-friendly contract for two years at $3.75m/year. It's a veritable coup for the Stars as they add a veteran, top-four defenseman who fits into the up-tempo style of play Dallas plays.

"I think it's a very, very fast team, a team that wants to play hockey, a similar style I think as Chicago; wants to have the puck, create things," Oduya said. "I think the speed is the thing that stands out the most."

The Stars had recently traded for Oduya's teammate Patrick Sharp and in the process gave up 31 year old d-man Trevor Daley in the process so things fell into place rather nicely for them.

As for the Sabres, the search for a top-four defensemen continues, be it a lefty or righty.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The 2015 Sabres Development Camp comes to a close

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The 2015 Sabres Development Camp has come to a close and probably the most impressive aspect of the weeklong event was the amount of interest shown by hockey fans in Western New York. Thousands of Sabres fans came downtown on a daily basis to watch 46 prospects go through workout drills and on Friday a record 17,115 were in attendance to watch the annual Blue and Gold Scrimmage. "I've said all along it's an unbelievable hockey market, I called it the eighth Canadian hockey market," said Sabres GM Tim Murray at the press conference, "and I think we've surpassed a lot of Canadian markets when it comes to this type of thing."

Just the fact that there was a press conference after an off-season workout for the youngins--the intra-squad 3-on-3 tournament--was enough to bring a light-hearted chuckle of disbelief. "A press conference for a development camp in July," grinned Murray as he began the media session.

Welcome to Buffalo.

Even though Murray has been on the job for well over a year, this being his second development camp, the over-the-top interest in the camp still left him shaking his head. But it really shouldn't be a surprise. That passion for the sport has been engrained in the collective Buffalo hockey mindset from the beginning. As you walk in the First Niagara Center and look up there's history laid out in photos beginning with Semour Knox III who's passion for the game set the tone. Next to him is a photo of Punch Imlach, an iconic figure in the hockey world. And then there's the Sabres first draft pick ever, Hall of Famer Gil Perreault, So it began with those three.

Monday, July 13, 2015

17,115 say good-bye to two years of suffering

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That number was not a misprint.

Seventeen thousand, one hundred and fifteen fans finished off a gorgeous summer day in early July by filling the First Niagara for the Buffalo Sabres annual Blue and Gold Scrimmage. And I thought last years attendance of 8,725 for the scrimmage was an incredible turnout.


"It’s crazy to think there was 17,000 people here for a scrimmage in July," said top Sabres prospect, 2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel, "but it says a lot about Buffalo and how passionate they are about the Sabres.”

Eichel wouldn't say it, but the main reason the fans opted to spend a few hours watching prospects scrimmage instead sipping a beverage outside in the warm summer evening was him. The 18 yr. old center represents a number of things to Buffalo hockey fans, but maybe most importantly, he's considered the face of the future and he's is helping Sabres fans lay to rest the last two years.