by Patrick Williams
As difficult as this season has been for the Rochester Americans, the Rochester-Buffalo pipeline continues to churn.
Head coach Randy Cunneyworth and the Amerks are probably victims of the success that they have enjoyed in recent seasons, as a slew of players from the 2004-05 Amerks roster are now with the Sabres, one of the NHL’s most pleasant success stories this season.
The Amerks, meanwhile, entered Saturday night’s home meeting with the Manitoba Moose immersed in a miserable 2-7-1 funk over their past 10 games. One of the AHL’s bright spots back in the fall, Rochester now sits 10 points out of the playoffs and trying to catch the Toronto Marlies, who improved at the NHL trade deadline by picking up sniper Aleksander Suglobov from Albany.
Six members of the Buffalo roster for Saturday afternoon’s 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center wore Rochester colors last season under Cunneyworth, and Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff is familiar with the Rochester infusion.
Despite being rocked by the Flyers for five goals on just 20 shots on Saturday, Ryan Miller has put together an excellent first full season in the NHL.
There is Jason Pominville, who has a robust 15 goals in just 39 games since heading west on the New York State Thruway earlier in the season.
Centerman Derek Roy burned Tampa Bay for a hat trick in Thursday night’s run-and-gun 8-5 win at HSBC Arena, Roy’s second hat trick in under a week.
Thomas Vanek‘s 21 goals place him second on the Buffalo roster in that category.
And big 24-year-old Paul Gaustad, a 6-foot-5 banger from North Dakota, finds himself on a line with Chris Drury and Mike Grier.
“It fits like a glove,” Ruff said of the transition that his Rochester graduates have made. “I spent most of (2004-05) down there (in Rochester). I went on road trips with them. I was on the ice probably once a week, twice a week.
“We really tried hard to incorporate what we want to do here. We’ve been trying to do that for a couple of years now. There’s a really cohesive unit there now where we have a lot of players who have played together and believe that this style is advantageous for everybody.”
The Sabres and Amerks largely have utilized the same systems, allowing only for minor tweaks. “They helped us out quite a bit, Lindy, (Buffalo general manager) Darcy (Regier) and those guys,” said Gaustad after Saturday’s win. “It made the transition a lot easier. It’s a pretty smooth transition.”
A young, hungry group that plays up-tempo hockey, the Rochester core is home-grown talent that has been brought along over the past two or three seasons with an eye on NHL duty.
“We came up through the system together,” explained Gaustad, “and we put in our time in Rochester. If one guy would have been up, we would have been happy for him. That all of us are up here at the same time, it’s been fun, and every guy deserves to be up here.”
Chatter over the years has hinted at a possible breakup of a Buffalo-Rochester marriage that dates back to 1979, but such talk seems ridiculous in spite of the Amerks’ troubles this season.
Ruff and Gaustad are in agreement on the value of the Sabres-Amerks pairing and the organizational strength that it breeds. The easy drive between the two cities allows Buffalo personnel to keep a close eye on its AHL talent.
“They’ve done a tremendous job,” Ruff said of the Cunneyworth, assistant coach Doug Houda and the rest of the crew in Rochester. “It’s a lot like here. Some of it is proximity. Rochester is right next door to us, and it really makes for a great working relationship.”
Concurred Gaustad: “It helps being close. I think it’s a great example of what the NHL and AHL should be.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports. He is currently the co-host of the Around the A Podcast.
Patrick was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.