by Warren Kosel || AHL On The Beat Archive
“A new day … for a Rochester tradition.”
That’s the new slogan that symbolizes the new era for the Rochester Americans’ hockey club as the team entered its 53rd season in the American Hockey League, and boy, is it ever true.
The Amerks came into the 2008-09 campaign with a new owner, management group, coaching staff, National Hockey League affiliation and faces in the locker room. But the newest addition to the Amerks’ family, and perhaps the most significant of them all, cannot be found in the front office or in the dressing room, but rather within the blue faceoff dot located at center ice at the Blue Cross Arena.
Embedded under an inch and a half of ice, you will find one of the rarest coins in all of North America, an Indian-head nickel, also known as the buffalo nickel.
The date on the 72-year-old collector’s item reads 1936, and although the date may seem meaningless to many, it actually poses quite the opposite for the Amerks. Coincidentally, 1936 is the inaugural season of operation for the AHL, the very league the Amerks have been members of for the past 52 seasons, but it is also the very last year that type of coin was ever produced.
And with Rochester being a cornerstone franchise of the AHL, one which is widely known for its rich history and storied tradition, the coin was welcomed with open arms by new owner Curt Styres as the next piece of Amerks’ history.
Styres remembers, “I mentioned to Lew (Lewis Staats, Amerks president) that we need to start a few traditions of our own with our new venture here in Rochester. The first thing I thought of was burying a coin in the ice as something that we could do without much fanfare. I also mentioned that the ideal coin would be an Indian-head nickel.”
Both agreed it was a great idea, but the only problem is where can such a rare coin be found? As a result, the idea would unfortunately be placed on the back burner; that is until fate stepped in.
The story that unites the Amerks with the keepsake is one of luck, or fate, as some would like to refer to it. Matthew Goldberg, a 21-year-old Rochester native, and his girlfriend, Samantha Moonan of Buffalo, found the coin over the summer in the attic of their home while scrounging around for extra change to finance their trip to Boston to watch the Rochester Rattlers capture the 2008 Major League Lacrosse championship.
As fate would have it, the peculiarity continued, only this time resulting in the union of Styres with Goldberg and Moonan at Amerks rookie training camp in Kitchener, Ont.
“We make an effort to go to rookie training camp every year to see the new guys, and we of course wore our Amerks jerseys,” said Goldberg. “Curt (Styres) immediately saw that we were Amerks fans and he came right over and starting talking to us.”
Styres wanted to show his appreciation to the loyal and dedicated fans and extended a personal invitation to both Goldberg and Moonan to attend Rochester’s annual preseason dinner with the off-ice officials at Brook-Lea Country Club. Honored by their presence, Styres introduced the couple to the group as not only his special guests, but two of the most devoted fans in all of the Rochester community.
As the evening progressed, Styres and Goldberg shared with each other their favorite moments in hockey and what it meant to them.
“One of my greatest memories was watching (Wayne) Gretzky put the Canadian dollar coin at center ice during the 2002 Winter Olympics and I just thought it was the coolest thing,” said Goldberg.
That year, both the men’s and women’s Canadian hockey teams won Olympic gold, defeating the United States in both cases. Gretzky, just a few years into retirement and the then executive director for the Canadian men’s national team, had the ice crew in Salt Lake City place a Canadian dollar at center ice prior to the games for good luck. To this day, the “Great One” credits the loonie for taking his club where no Canadian team has gone in over 50 years.
So who better to emulate than one of the greatest players to ever play the game? If a simple Canadian dollar can inspire those to whom it belongs to achieve greatness, than why can’t the same be said with a buffalo nickel?
Intrigued by Goldberg’s comments and the meaning behind such actions, Styres suggested he too wanted to follow the footsteps of Gretzky; however, he wanted to do something just a little different than the NHL’s all-time leading scorer. Styres proposed that a buffalo nickel be placed at center ice at the Blue Cross Arena in the hopes that it too will provide the same inspirational influence on the Amerks.
The only problem is: who on earth has a 72-year-old buffalo nickel lying around who is willing to place it at center ice at the community war memorial?
It really is strange how much luck two people can have, isn’t it? Especially when they share the same exact things in common?
And yet again, as fate would have it, fortune continues to bring Goldberg and Styres together.
“When Curt said he wanted to see a buffalo nickel be put at center ice, my jaw dropped and so did his when I told him I had one,” said Goldberg. “I still can’t believe the way things worked out.”
On Oct. 23, Styres’ and Goldberg’s vision became a reality when Goldberg and Moonan, along with Amerks president Lewis Staats, had the gratifying opportunity of inserting the first ever buffalo nickel at centre ice at the Blue Cross Arena.
“To me, it means a fresh new start for Amerks hockey and I thought center ice would be a perfect place for it,” said Goldberg, an Amerks season ticket holder since 1997. “I wanted it to be in a spot where everyone can be exposed to it, the players, the fans, the organization, everyone involved with the team.”
“It truly is one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had,” said Goldberg. “This really is a new day for a Rochester tradition.”
“This is something that they will always remember for the rest of their lives,” said Styres. “They get to be a part of the tradition of the Rochester Americans and I’m honored for it.”
After being in center ice for just over 24 hours, Rochester used the charm of the coin to earn its first win of the season on home ice the following night in a 5-4 victory over the Quad City Flames.
Maybe Gretzky was right. Maybe all the Amerks need is just a change of luck.