Florida Panthers Article: Optimism In Rochester

Amerks Celebrate a GoalThe article below appeared on the Florida Panthers site this past Sunday about the optimism surrounding the upcoming Rochester Americans season, something that has been missing in recent years.

One thing that’s exciting is the interest in the Amerks that a lot of Panther fans have taken.  These fans view the Rochester Americans as the Rochester Americans, not just the prospects of the Florida Panthers.  They recognize the history of this team and seem to understand the importance of the Amerks winning and how that can positively impact the big club.  These are the same thoughts that have been shared by Florida management as well.

With the Amerks front office getting back to making the Amerks relevant in Rochester again and the teams NHL parent recognizing the same thing it really does give a sense of optimism.

To bring ourselves back down to earth for a moment, I do agree with those that are saying it all sounds great in writing but we won’t know anything until the roster is assembled for opening night and the puck drops.

Training camp opens in nine days, maybe there will be more than 10 of us there to watch?

Here’s the article:

Sunday Coffee: Optimism In Rochester

Sunday, 09.06.2009 / 7:53 AM / Sunday Coffee
By Dave Joseph
There’s optimism building in Rochester.

The Americans, the Panthers affiliate in the American Hockey League (AHL), have gone from a team that finished last in the Western Conference last season to a Calder Cup favorite this upcoming season.

For the Panthers and Amerks, who have spent the off-season signing AHL veterans Chris Taylor, Jeff Taffe, Clay Wilson, Graham Mink and Mike York to go along with Panthers prospects Keaton Ellerby, Shawn Matthias and Michal Repik, the change didn’t occur overnight.

While watching a group of players go through an informal practice one recent morning at the incredible ICE training facility, Panthers director of player personnel Jack Birch said the resurgence began to take shape just weeks after the Amerks stumbled out of the gate last year to a 3-18-0-3 start.

“We realized early last year that we were too young in Rochester,” Birch said. “It was one of those freakish years when we had something like 11 freshmen players coming out, and that doesn’t happen very often.”

While the Amerks and rookie coach Benoit Groulx were in the process of slowly turning things around, Birch said he and Panthers assistant GM Randy Sexton and former GM Jacques Martin met with Amerks ownership to determine a course of action.

“We said we wanted to go back to the model that Rochester used to have,” Birch recalled. “That model was the ownership group would put in five or six veteran players and they would become the face of the franchise and, in a lot of cases, they would be support personnel for the parent club.”

Birch said a list of 60 players were identified as strong minor-league signings who would fill the veteran leadership role and potentially play games for the Panthers.

“Looking back, of the top seven on the list, we got five of them,” Birch said.

Those five were Taffe, a point-a-game produced for the Penguins affiliate last season, Wilson, of the AHL’s top offensive defensemen, right winger Mink, former NHL regular and U.S. Olympian York, and Taylor.

Taffe, Wilson, Mink and York (NHL tryout) will be in South Florida competing for jobs when the Panthers open training camp Sept. 12.

“Taffe was listed as our No. 1 center, and he’s more than capable of playing with the big club,” Birch said. “We identified Wilson as, if not the top defensemen, one of the top two or three, and he’s more than capable of playing with the big club. Looking at the right side, we identified Mink as being the No. 1 right winger and went after him. And we added guys like Chris Taylor, who played in Rochester before playing in Germany the past three years, and Mike York, who’s not far removed from being an Olympic player.

“So now you sit down and look at it, combined with the guys we have in their second year like Repik and Matthias and Ellerby, (Jason) Garrison, (Andrew) Sweetland and (Mike) Duco, and you’re looking at a pretty good lineup. It’s one that certainly should be able to compete at the highest level of the American Hockey League.”

The only question mark in Rochester could be in goal. Birch, however, said all reports on goalie Alexander Salak have been positive. The young goalie arrived in South Florida this weekend for rookie camp beginning Monday at incredible ICE.