Knapp living the dream right at home

by Anthony Laurendi || AHL On The Beat Archive

It’s every young hockey player’s dream to grow up and wear the sweater of your hometown team. But in the case of Rochcester Americans rookie goaltender Connor Knapp, it’s much different than that.

Knapp, a local product from the nearby town of York, spent many nights at the Blue Cross Arena cheering on the Americans as an aspiring goalie. Now, more than 15 years later, he is on the roster, sharing duties with David Leggio as anchors for the Amerks.

The Buffalo Sabres drafted Knapp in the sixth round (164th overall) of the 2009 NHL draft, at which time the Sabres were affiliated with the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League. Knapp was playing college hockey for the Miami (Ohio) University Red Hawks, but with the purchase of the Amerks by Terry Pegula in 2011, the Sabres and the Rochester Americans were reunited again.

“I was really excited when Buffalo drafted me,” said Knapp, who boasts a 1-4-0 record with a 3.04 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage in five games with the Amerks this season. “When the new ownership purchased the Amerks it was a big motivator for me while I was at school. The idea of coming back home to play was thrilling.”

The idea of playing back home was so thrilling for the 22-year-old netminder that it produced his finest season of college hockey and the numbers don’t lie. The 2011-12 campaign saw Knapp capture career-bests in all goaltending categories, including games played (24), wins (15), shutouts (5), saves (533), save percentage (.933) and goals-against average (1.69). He took home CCHA Best Goaltender honors and was an honorable mention All-CCHA selection, in addition to finishing as a four-time honoree as the CCHA Goaltender of the Week, the most of any goaltender in his respective conference.

More impressively, though, his 1.69 GAA and .933 save percentage last season ranked him third and fourth among college backstops in the nation, respectively, while establishing new single-season school records in each category. Knapp would complete his tenure with an incredible 46-22-11 record and an astounding 1.94 GAA and a .918 save percentage in 84 career games with the Red Hawks.

After bringing an illustrious four-year career at Miami to a close, Knapp made his way to Amerks training camp in hopes of becoming a permanent fixture in Buffalo’s goaltending depth chart. The 6-foot-6, 206-pound goalie was impressive in camp, ultimately proving his worth and earning himself a spot on the Amerks’ opening day roster.

The path was a simple one for Knapp, who credited former Amerk goalies now playing in the NHL for blazing the trail for him.

“When I was younger, my mom would always take me to practice to watch former Amerks goalies Marty Biron and Ryan Miller, to see the way they played and how they prepared,” remembered Knapp. “Having the opportunity to share some words with those guys and see what it takes to make it to this level served as motivation for me.”

Now Knapp is in the same position as his role models -– a goalie for the Rochester Americans -– a dream that came to fruition on Dec. 7, when he earned his first professional victory in a brilliant 41-save performance against the Adirondack Phantoms. The win was not only an important win for him, but it also was a big win for the Amerks.

After Knapp was announced as the game’s second star and received congratulations from his teammates in the dressing room, he ventured back to the tunnel leading out to the players’ bench. There, he was greeted by more than a dozen family members and friends, all of whom were excited to have witnessed Knapp’s first professional win in the rink he grew up in.

“It was pretty emotional afterwards,” said Knapp, another product of Rochester Youth Hockey and former student at McQuaid Jesuit High School. “Having family and friends in the stands made it that much more special. It was nice to get that first win out of the way and now being able to focus on winning more games for the team.”

In a new Amerk tradition, the team gathers at center ice to salute the crowd after a victory. But on Dec. 7, the simple gesture had a little bit more meaning for Knapp, who proudly raised his stick to his family, friends, and of course, the Amerk faithful.

The young fan who once attended games as a kid has come full circle, finally getting his chance to live out the dream others can only imagine while carrying on the rich history and hockey tradition of the storied Rochester Americans.