Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
The Rochester Americans are on a vicious slide right now after a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Binghamton Senators last night. It was another poor night for a team who is now 3-10-1 after starting the season 6-2.
Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle writes that a contributing factor to their slump is something Sabres' fans are all too familiar with--lack of heart. His example comes from the game last night.
According to Oklobzija, with under a minute left in the game Rochester's Drew Bagnall laid out a B-Sen with a thundering hit that Binghamton tough-guy Darren Kramer didn't take kindly too. In a scene that repeats itself far too often, a player has to fight because he delivered a thunderous, yet clean hit. Bagnall himself said so, 'It's a 4-1 game -- he's doing his job. He's got to come at me. I'd have done the same thing.'
Being the trooper he is, Bagnall manned-up despite the fact that he had one shoulder surgically repaired last season while the other one he banged up last month is still not 100%. Try as he might, the fight was a disaster from the get-go. Bagnall skated off the ice in obvious discomfort and looks to be a question mark for at least the remaining two games this weekend.
What irked Oklobzija is that Bagnall's teammates didn't have his back. "They know he can't be fighting," he wrote. "They also know he'd have their back in every situation. And, yes, they know he'd have been irate had someone tried to fight his battle for him. But still, they need him in the lineup."
A single incident like that isn't the lone reason the Amerks are slumping, but occurrences like that do show that team character is lacking.
The role Bagnall plays for the Amerks, as well as the scene Oklobzija alluded to, is also eerily reminiscent of a time period for Buffalo under former GM Darcy Regier. While Regier's skill players were busy underachieving and generally fearing for their collective lives, he had one lone soldier on the ice trying to protect them. From 2008-2011 it was Craig Rivet and from 2012 until he was traded to Los Angeles on April 1, 2014, Robyn Regehr had that role.
Bagnall, Rivet and Regehr all had the same traits--big, gritty, veteran defensive-defensemen who would stick up for their teammates at the drop of a hat. And all three somehow ended up becoming defacto enforcers for a group of largely apathetic teammates too worried about their own safety to come to the aid of a teammate.
What's interesting about the Amerks cowering last night is that it's in direct contrast to what the parent club had done the night before, which was an all-in, pack mentality when one of their own was being challenged. It's something that leads Oklobzija to not only question the player's hearts, he's also questioning the coaching staff and management. "There have been coaching decisions that boggle the mind," he wrote. "Rookie defenseman Brady Austin was sent to ECHL Elmira last Friday, presumably so he could play a lot. A day later he was called back up and inserted into the lineup.
"He played again on Friday, and veteran Nick Petrecki sat. Petrecki is another guy who plays with heart. He's not the guy who should sit out. Of course, he's on AHL-only contract so the big club won't be happy if the NHL contracts are[n't] playing."
Rochester bench boss Chadd Cassidy is one of Regier's hires. Cassidy became the Amerks head coach when Ron Rolston moved up to replace the fired Lindy Ruff. All are branches of the Regier tree.
Sabres GM Tim Murray eventually replaced Regier yet hasn't made any head coaching changes. Although he had had no attachments to Cassidy, after the Amerks performed admirably in five-game, first round loss to the Chicago Wolves, he decided to keep him on for the season.
Obviously something's amiss in Rochester and it's usually a multitude of factors that contribute to a slide like the Amerks are going through. Yet character flaws seem to be bubbling to the surface as they did with the Sabres under Regier. It took a long time, but it would seem as if the Sabres are close to eradicating those flaws.
The Amerks, though, cant' seem to shake 'em and it may be time for Murray to get to the heart of the matter.