AHL Weekly Release: Amerks matching Sabres’ start


rochester05.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … It’s a good time to be a hockey fan in Western New York.

While the Buffalo Sabres are the talk of the National Hockey League with their perfect start, their AHL affiliate is making headlines of its own 75 miles down the Thruway. The Rochester Americans (affiliated with both Buffalo and the Florida Panthers) are 6-0-0-0 out of the gate, making it 15 wins in 15 games for the Sabres organization.

Allowing 106 shots in two games might not seem like a recipe for success, but Rochester made it work last week, as Craig Anderson made 50 stops in a 3-1 win over Peoria on Friday night and rookie Adam Dennis followed up with 54 saves in a 3-1 win at Toronto on Saturday afternoon. Before it was done twice in less than 24 hours over the weekend, no Amerks goaltender had made at least 50 saves in a game since Nov. 12, 1991 (David Littman).

Anderson (1.23, .959) and Dennis (1.50, .969) have been nearly unbeatable on the season, stopping 212 of 220 shots overall and combining for a .973 save percentage over the last three games in which the Amerks have been outshot by a 148-69 margin.

Anderson is a veteran in his sixth professional season and defenseman Brandon Smith has played more than 700 AHL games, but the rest of the Rochester defensive unit is relatively inexperienced. Goaltender Dennis and blueliners Mike Card, Michael Funk, Franklin MacDonald, Andrej Sekera and Patrick Kaleta had never played a professional game before opening night, Martin Lojek owned 15 games of previous AHL experience, and Ari Vallin was making his North American debut after several years in his native Finland. But the result – eight goals against in six games – has Rochester off to its best start since going 9-0-0-0 to open the 1999-2000 campaign.

Up front, Clarke MacArthur leads the Amerks with seven points after finishing second in team scoring as a rookie in 2005-06, and first-year pro Drew Stafford is tops on the club with four goals.

The road to the NHL in the Buffalo organization has gone through Rochester for 28 years, and the early-season success of the Sabres in 2006-07 can be traced directly to the Blue Cross Arena. Thirteen of the 20 players to suit up for every Buffalo game this year are Amerks alumni, including team scoring leader Maxim Afinogenov, NHL plus/minus leader Thomas Vanek and league wins leader Ryan Miller.

Rochester is back in action on Wednesday night when it visits Grand Rapids in a battle of the top two teams in the North Division.

AHL TEAMS THINK PINK … October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and several AHL clubs are raising funds to help in the fight against the disease.

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ Pink Rink Night on Sunday featured a player-used stick auction, a 50-50 raffle and chuck-a-puck contest to benefit the American Cancer Society. Saturday was Cancer Awareness Night in Wilkes-Barre, with Penguins goalie Andrew Penner, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor, using a pink stick in warm-ups that was raffled off during the game for the ACS. The Iowa Stars are selling commemorative pink pucks to benefit the Des Moines chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Special ticket packages are also available for select Stars games, with part of the proceeds going to the Komen Foundation.

As part of their Family Packs for October home games, the Hamilton Bulldogs are including four wristbands and four cheer sticks, with proceeds from the sales going to the Komen Race for the Cure. The Bulldogs are also auctioning off sticks that have been dipped in pink paint and autographed by players and their significant others. The Chicago Wolves are raffling off a Braydon Coburn jersey and auctioning several items, including a Coburn-signed stick, to raise money for the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization.

Last season, the AHL and its member clubs raised more than $2 million for donation to various charitable causes and relief funds across North America.

STEVENS, BERUBE GET CALL FOR FLYERS … John Stevens became the 18th former AHL head coach in the current NHL head coaching ranks when he was promoted to lead the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. That was followed on Monday by the announcement that Phantoms head coach Craig Berube was moving up to be Stevens’ assistant, a position he held on the Phantoms’ 2005 Calder Cup championship team.

Kjell Samuelsson, in his seventh year as an assistant with the Phantoms, has been named the AHL club’s fourth head coach.

ETC.Neil Komadoski, whose father Neil played for the Springfield Kings (1971-72) and Springfield Indians (1977-78), scored the winning goal in Binghamton’s 4-3 victory over the Springfield Falcons at the MassMutual Center on Saturday night… It was a happy homecoming for Falcons head coach Steve Stirling on Sunday, as his club posted a 3-0 win over Bridgeport in the city where he led the Sound Tigers to the 2002 Calder Cup Finals… Nine of Houston’s 17 goals this season have come from rookies Benoit Pouliot (four), Danny Irmen (two), Alex Leavitt, Ben Thomson and Ryan Hamilton (one each)… Norfolk scored the final eight goals of its two-game weekend series with Philadelphia, rallying from 5-2 down for a 6-5 overtime win on Friday and posting a 4-0 shutout on Saturday… Peoria had allowed three power-play goals in 53 chances over its first seven games (94.7%) before Toronto went 3-for-7 in a 4-3 win over the Rivermen on Sunday… At 6-0-0-1, Portland is off to the best seven-game start in team history; the 1994-95 Pirates who set an AHL record by going unbeaten in their first 17 games (14-0-3) were 5-0-2 through seven outings… AHL President and CEO David Andrews, a Nova Scotia native and former general manager of the AHL’s Cape Breton Oilers, was inducted on Friday into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in Halifax.