Together again

by Warren Kosel || AHL On The Beat Archive

When Terry Pegula and the Buffalo Sabres acquired the Rochester Americans during the offseason, it marked a new era of Amerks hockey as a longtime relationship was rekindled with the reunion of the storied franchises.

While the unification of the teams represents a new beginning, it also signifies the inclusion of Rochester into the “Sabres University.”

“When Terry purchased Sabres back in February, he said the purpose for the existence of the team was to win the Stanley Cup and to make Buffalo the premier destination for players and staff alike,” said Buffalo Sabres team president Ted Black. “And with the addition of the Rochester Americans into ‘Sabres University’, that process starts now with the development of our young prospects and the overall goal of winning the Calder Cup.”

Phase one in the process of integrating the Amerks into the “Sabres University” was completed earlier this summer with the appointment of Ron Rolston as the new head coach of the American Hockey League franchise. Acknowledged by Black and general manager Darcy Regier as the “first professor of Sabres University,” Rolston becomes the 29th bench boss in the history of the Amerks franchise.

“I’m certainly excited and honored to join an organization with such a storied tradition that the Rochester Americans have,” said Rolston after his official introduction as Rochester’s new head coach. “I’m thrilled to be entrusted with developing the talent here, but most importantly, bringing the Calder Cup back to Rochester with the challenge that comes with that.”

With Rolston now in position, the essential component of the new “Sabres University” regime will be a heavy emphasis on the development of young talent in a competitive, winning environment. However, the approach isn’t anything new for Rolston, who has a proven track record when it comes to finding success and developing youth.

Joining Rolston behind the bench is a coaching staff dedicated to what the Sabres and Amerks have put in place in order to restore both franchises among the elite organizations in their respective leagues.

Chadd Cassidy, Rolston’s assistant coach the last five seasons in USA Hockey, remains in the same capacity, while former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee has also been brought on board to work primarily with the defense. Rounding out the coaching staff is former Amerk Chris Taylor, whose recent retirement ends a 20-year pro career, which included nine seasons in Rochester. Taylor, one of the all-time Amerk greats, will serve as the development coach and offer his knowledge of the game to the offense. Bob Janosz returns for his fifth season as goaltending instructor, working closely with the tandem of Drew MacIntyre and David Leggio.

“Today is a great day for Rochester Americans hockey, a great day for Buffalo Sabres hockey and a great day for the ‘Sabres University’,” said Black. “With the reunification of the Sabres and Amerks, our goal of winning championships in both cities is in our long-term vision and we now have a pipeline in place in order to make that happen.”

A five-time medal winner with the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP), Rolston spent his last seven seasons molding the nation’s top 17 and 18 year olds into future NHL standouts at the game’s biggest stage. Rolston joins the organization after guiding the U.S. Under-18 team to three gold medals and a silver medal in four stints as head coach at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Under-18 Championship, including the 2011 tournament in Germany.

During the 2010-11 season, he also led Team USA to titles in the 2011 Five Nations Tournament and in the 2010 Four Nations Cup. In June, he received the 2011 Bob Johnson Award from USA Hockey, which recognizes excellence in international competition during a season. The longest-tenured and most decorated head coach in NTDP history, Rolston is the only coach in U.S. history to win three gold medals in the Under-18 World Championship (2005, 2009, 2011). His team also captured a silver medal in the 2007 Under-18 World Championship.

In addition to coaching at the Under-18 and Under-17 levels, Rolston also served as head coach for the U.S. National Junior Team on two occasions. In 2007, he led Team USA to the bronze medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Sweden. He was also behind the bench during the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ottawa.

According to Black and Regier, the “Sabres University” will be primarily based upon the basic principles of teaching and training with the notion that proper education and development will translate into winning, which will ultimately lead to long-term organizational success. It’s a plan that Rolston is familiar with, yet eager to embrace as he makes jump to the professional ranks.

“What strikes me the most about the organization is the strong leadership and the commitment to excellence,” said Rolston. “For me, this opportunity is a culmination of 20 seasons spent striving to achieve on-ice excellence, while striving to extract optimal performance out of my players, team and staff. I’m confident we can continue that trait here in Rochester and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by the passionate and dedicated people in this organization.”

“The ‘Sabres University’ is a little different, because more than anything else, it represents winning championships,” added Regier. “That winning process begins with the selection of the players and it progresses with the development of those players. There is no other important area we recognize more than the development of the players. That begins with the right coach and I believe we’ve found the best candidate out there who fits well within our vision moving forward.”