Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-19-2017
Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill and Randy Sexton, his Buffalo assistant and general manager for the Rochester Americans, have a couple of things in common. First off they both came over from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization on the heels of back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships and second, both Botterill and Sexton went to college in the U.S. and graduated with MBA's.
The two are in charge of building a winning culture from Buffalo to Rochester to Cincinnati, the Sabres new ECHL affiliate. To do so they need players they think will get the job done and to no one's surprise, they tapped into the roster of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins AHL affiliate to help jumpstart the program in Rochester.
It began on Day-1 of free agency when Botterill brought in a very familiar name in center Kevin Porter. The Detroit, Michigan native spent two seasons (2012-14) in the Sabres organization then spent a season with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins (DET) before landing in the Pittsburgh where he spent the last two seasons.
Sexton tapped into the Pens organization yesterday when he signed defenseman Barry Goers and center Adam Krause to AHL contracts. The 31 yr. old Goers spent the last four seasons in WBS compiling 30 points (7+23) in 127 games while Krause played in 29 games over two seasons with the Baby Pens registering four goals and seven assists. The 6'3" 210 lb. Krause started his pro career with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL scoring 26 goals and adding 26 assists.
“Our success story or what our model's been in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, what we'll try to implement in Rochester, is very much the same with an emphasis on creating a winning environment and a strong coaching staff that's very tied to what goes on at the National Hockey League level," said Botterill at his presser.
In a piece via Amerks.com, Sexton continued to lay out the philosophy of creating a winning environment, “We added depth across the organization, both in Rochester and in Buffalo, and there are three or four players that I think for sure will play games in Buffalo, and might even earn a full-time spot,” he said. “But if not, they’ll be the types of players that will come to Rochester. They will provide leadership, they will provide some offensive capabilities and some good defensive capabilities, so that our young kids can learn in an environment that has success. Building confidence and having success on a frequent basis in a winning environment, that’s about development.”
Part of that environment will also be leaning heavily on the influence of hockey players from the college ranks. From Jack Eichel to recently signed free agent defenseman Andrew MacWilliam, the Sabres organization is full of players and prospects with college ties. On July 1 Porter (Michigan) was joined by fellow college alum Kyle Criscuolo (Harvard,) Matt Tennyson (Western Michigan) and Adam Wilcox (Minnesota) in joining the Sabres organization.
Other college grads whom the Sabres have signed recently include a group of C.J. Smith (UMASS-Lowell,) Adam Kile (Michigan,) Justin Danforth (Sacred Heart University, Atlantic Hockey Association) and MacWilliam (North Dakota.) Evan Rodrigues (Boston University) and Casey Nelson Minnesota State) were both signed out of college in 2015 and there are numerous drafted players that will either be attending college like 2017 eighth-overall pick Casey Mittelstadt (Minnesota,) are still in college like 92nd overall pick (2015) Will Borgen at St. Cloud State or graduated and have started their pro careers (Hudson Fasching, Minnesota.)
Sabres owner Terry Pegula has been focusing on the NCAA ever since he sold his interest in East Resources in 2010. The first thing he did was donate what would end up being over $100 million to his alma mater, Penn State, for a D-1 hockey program. Last month he was credited with laying the groundwork for the NHL's college hockey initiative, "a project to promote the growth of NCAA Division-1 men's and women's hockey," according to NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman.
The program is in it's infancy but it aims to explore adding D-1 college hockey programs across the U.S.
Bettman, who announced the program at the NHL Draft in Chicago last month, used Penn State as an example saying that they've already "achieved a level of great success in it's short history," noting that the D-1 men's hockey program, which began in 2012-13, was ranked No. 1 at one point in the 2016-17 season. Those direct results of Pegula's generous donation to Penn State was the driving force for an initiative that hopes to "incentivize and raise awareness for schools that may be interested in adding a D-1 hockey program," said Bettman.
The idea is to expand hockey's footprint in the U.S. using D-1 programs as a way of leading towards more youth hockey. "What we've found is, where high-level hockey is established," said Bettman, "youth hockey will also follow as well.
"By expanding our footprint at all levels for elite programs, we can inspire new players and parents to join the hockey family."
The reliance of NHL teams on college hockey has grown considerably as "a record 314 former college players skated in the NHL in 2016-17, comprising 32% of the league," wrote CollegeHockeyInc. "That number was just 20% at the turn of the century. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins featured more former college players than any NHL team in history."
Botterill and Sexton both played hockey in college with Botterill making it to the NHL at a time when the NHL relied heavily on players from the Canadian Junior Leagues. A lot has changed since with Pittsburgh being on the cutting edge of the movement more towards college players. Contributions at the NHL-level, like with Jake Guentzel (University of Nebraska-Omaha) have been well documented, but it should also be noted that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have made the AHL's Calder Cup playoffs the last eight seasons, all with Botterill's guidance.
It's certainly something of interest in Rochester where the Amerks have missed the playoffs the last three seasons and have only made them thrice since 2004-05, which happened to be with Botterill on the roster in his final pro season.