Lucky number sixty-seven
The Amerks are more than ready for their next season
The Amerks will provide fans plenty of excitement inside Blue Cross Arena again this season.
There are going to be ups and downs in the course of a sixty-seven year lifetime, but as the Rochester Americans (aka the Amerks), who were born in 1956, embark upon a new season, there are a lot more ups than downs to look forward to.
A big reason for that comes from last season when the team made the playoffs, and the game was returned to the fans after they were prohibited from attending the entire 2020-2021 season due to COVID protocol.
“We’re social human beings. I missed that interaction with the fans. It was great to see the people back gathering and talking, seeing kids’ eyes light up, and the smiles on their faces this year.” says “Mr. Amerk,” Jody Gage, director of strategic planning and one of the best Amerks players of all time.
Crowds of 10,000-plus packed Blue Cross Arena for the 2022 Calder Cup playoff games—proof that an exciting competitive hockey team can still get people to come downtown after work and school on cold, dark upstate New York days.
“That was incredible. I was really happy for our fan base, which includes the Buffalo Sabres fan base,” says Amerks head coach Seth Appert, now entering his third season with the team.
Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens is entering his thirty-seventh year with the team. He recalls arriving at the airport in 1986 and being picked up by then owner Seymour Knox.
“You’re really going to like it here because the Rochester Americans are the social event of the winter,” Knox told him. “That was true for many years, and I think it’s starting to get back to that,” Stevens says. Stevens has seen it all since then: the good teams and the bad, the full house and not-so-full. He’s also seen the game evolve. Players today are bigger, faster, and stronger.
Gage is part of an Amerks alumni group that works in the community, teaching kids how to skate and introducing them to the sport. As he explains, it teaches kids some life skills they’re likely to need in any career path. Discipline, hard work, following the rules, and working as a team are just some of the invaluable lessons kids can learn in hockey and in other sports.
Kids from Rochester and all over the US make it to pro hockey. Sabres leading scorer Tage Thompson grew up in Phoenix. Brian and Stephen Gionta and Ryan Callahan are arguably the most well known locals who made it to the NHL.
A big family and local following were on hand at Blue Cross Arena in March when Fairport’s Cole Bardreau came to town with his AHL Bridgeport team.
“We’ve done a good job in the community of getting kids to participate,” Gage says.The league thinks so, too, awarding the Amerks the Eastern Conference Community Service Excellence Award last season for exceptional community relations. The team also raises funds for local institutions such as Golisano Children’s Hospital, the Veterans Outreach Center, and the Seneca Park Zoo.
Community involvement hasn’t been easy in the COVID era. Fans may be allowed back in the building, but the Amerks— and all AHL players—haven’t been able to interact with kids or outsiders directly, in order to keep the infection rate down. Even in the 2021-2022 season some games had to be rescheduled, postponed, or can- celled due to players testing positive. The league is hopeful that won’t be necessary this year.
Amerks alumni and representatives successfully picked up where the players left off in the community. Gage, who grew up in the Toronto area, remained in Rochester after he retired in the ’95-’96 season. He played in Rochester for eleven years and seventeen years in the league, something the AHL players of today rarely, if ever, get to do.
That’s because the NHL relies on the AHL more than ever to develop and deliver young players. Buffalo provided that young talent last season and with a plethora of draft picks at its disposal, is ready to do it again this season.
“I have a dual job,” Coach Appert says. “Yes, we want to win in Rochester, but the Buffalo Sabres hired me to give them NHL ready prospects. I take that job very seriously and strongly believe in it,” he proclaims.
Appert is glad to have some core veterans coming back that he can rely on. AHL rules still allow for a handful of veterans on each team. Team captain Michael Mersch returns to lend guidance and demonstrate a strong work ethic to young players.
“He’s invaluable to me. There are really no words to describe Mersch that do him justice. He’s a perfect fit for me,” says Appert. The captain sets an example on and off the ice demonstrating how to treat people, how to be a family man, and how to live life in general.
Fan and coaching staff favorites Sean Malone and Ethan Prow are likely to be back as well. Malone, a center from Buffalo, enters his fifth season with the Amerks and sixth in the AHL. Prow, a defenseman, enters his eighth season in pro hockey and second with the Amerks.
It’s a long season for pro hockey coaches like Appert. He had precious little time to spend with his family in Michigan over the summer, and yet he couldn’t wait for the Sabres training camp in September and for the season to start in October. “Some excellent first and second rounders could be coming to Rochester. That gets me excited,” Appert says.
It should be exciting for fans, too. The AHL may be developmental, but it is also arguably the second-best league in a world full of hockey leagues.
“We are going to do our part to put an excellent brand of hockey out there for our city,” Appert promises Amerks fans.
Winter months may be dark and cold in Rochester, but the Amerks will provide fans plenty of excitement inside Blue Cross Arena again this season.