I am here to tell you that hockey in Western NY is fun again. Not just in Buffalo, because my God is that hockey fun, but Rochester seems to have gotten the memo this year, too.
"Oh I can' get you off of my mind, but I think that it's all right, 'cause looking back I'm fallin' in love with you every single night. You know that feeling, right? Where everything is fine - just fine. I keep falling in love with you ..." (Summertime, The Mowglis)
Rochester kicked off their 60th season in grand style Friday night, welcoming members of teams from each prior decade into the face off circle. As they did in their very first season, they dropped the puck against a Cleveland team, starting this season against the Lake Erie Monsters. The Amerks came out guns blazing for the home crowd, in front of veteran netminder Nathan Lieuwen. Lieuwen showed none of the rust from nights spent in the press box last season, shaking off a plethora of injuries, and welcomed the "Lieu"'s from the crowd in return for his stellar performance. The thorn in the Amerks side continued to be the second period, however, when the Monsters played catch up and sent the two teams off to the dressing rooms with tied score.
No one makes Phil Varone bleed his own blood (I wish I could say more about that, but I had to commit the ultimate of sins and leave the game early) and, after his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third period, the Amerks exploded and sealed the game with a 6-3 victory. Oh, yeah, AND MATT ELLIS HAD A HAT TRICK. I miss all the good stuff, guys. Seriously. The Amerks are 36-18-6 all-time in home openers.
Then, Lieuwen got called to Buffalo and Linus Ullmark got activated off of IR and Saturday got real interesting real quick against the Utica Comets. The Comets gave the Amerks some headaches last season, and with good reason - they ended up playing for the Calder Cup, and losing in five games to the Manchester Monarchs. The Amerks losing streak against Utica goes back to Valentine's Day, which is cute because it only took the Amerks two goals in 14 seconds to secure the win over the Comets. See? It all comes full circle. Ullmark shone in his debut, with 38 saves on 39 shots.
Do I think the Amerks are out of the goaltending water? Absolutely not. Am I breathing a little easier than I was when Robin Lehner went down in that Sabres first game? A little. The best case scenario, which we've all been standing around talking about on the twitters, is a "revolving door" backup goaltender situation, where no one sits too long and everyone gets a chance to play games in Rochester, between Lieuwen, Ullmark, and Andrey Makarov. This is not ideal - it's a best case scenario. I want to say that twice on purpose, because we've all seen the news that Lehner is going to be out for a bit, and none of these three are NHL-ready. Hell, I'm not even sure that (Hi, my name is) Chad Johnson is NHL-ready, but here we are and they don't ask me for my opinions on the Sabres. There are a lot of new faces in Rochester and, as much as I will miss Chadd Cassidy (I liked him), I think Randy Cunneyworth brings a lot to the table, as well.
The Amerks take the road this weekend, with a pair of games Friday and Saturday at the Mile One Centre against the St John's Ice Caps (Montreal Canadiens). This will be the first meeting against these two teams since St John's reintroduction to the league in 2011. As a friendly reminder, the games will both start at 6pm EST, as Newfoundland/Labrador is an hour ahead of us.
I am joining with #HockeyFightsDV again this season, to benefit the Willow Center in Rochester, NY. I have pledged $1/Patrice Bergeron goal, $5/Amerks Goalie SO, $1/Amerks win, $2/"Ryan Miller Shutout," $25/Amerks or Sabres goalie point, to be updated at the end of each month this season. You can pledge, too, at hockeyfightsdv.tumblr.com.