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Cipolla joins long line of former Amerks behind bench

by Lindsay Kramer /

New Rochester assistant coach Jason Cipolla played for the Americans for three seasons from 1999-2001.
Buffalo Sabres assistant Brian McCutcheon, Rochester head coach Randy Cunneyworth and new Amerks assistant Jason Cipolla have been carpooling from their homes in the Rochester area to Buffalo for the Sabres’ training camp.

That’s what Amerks past and present do. They stick together — and learn together. Cipolla played for both McCutcheon and Cunneyworth during his two seasons in Rochester.

“I’ll ask things from time to time,” Cipolla said of their discussions during the rides to and from Buffalo. “But for the most part, it’s telling fun stories and getting ready for the season.”

Cipolla, 34, has been growing the necessary roots for the job for several years.

Cipolla played for the Amerks from 1999-2001 and started spending his off-seasons in Rochester because his wife, Kristin, is from the area. After retiring as a player in 2006, he made his home there full time.

He set up a youth camp business that helped children get involved in hockey, lacrosse and the theater. He tended to his young daughter, Isabelle. But by the time that March rolled around, he felt hockey’s pull again.

Cipolla wanted to coach, but the complicating factor was that with his wife due any day with their second child, he wasn’t in a position to pack up and leave Rochester. Cunneyworth solved that quandary by tapping him to replace Moe Mantha earlier this month.

“To get the Amerks’ assistant job is almost too good to be true,” Cipolla gushed. “I’m right here. It’s amazing. Everything about it is great.”

Cipolla joins a long list of Amerks players who’ve eventually worked behind the team’s bench. That list includes Cunneyworth, Don Cherry, Dick Gamble, Doug Houda, Steve Kraftcheck, Don Lever, Duane Rupp and John Van Boxmeer.

“It stems from a lot of people, when they come here they end up staying here, they end up living here in the off-season,” Cipolla said. “There’s a lot of history and pride that comes with being a Rochester Amerk. It definitely rubs off on you when you first get here. Then it becomes part of you.”

Cipolla’s new job also gives him another perspective on Cunneyworth. Cipolla not only played for him, they were linemates for a season in Rochester, too. While they may have at times shared the same vision on the ice, Cipolla said he never could have foreseen sharing coaching responsibilities with his former linemate.

“I would have never guessed it in a million years,” Cipolla said. “We did fine as teammates. As a coach, we had a different relationship, but still a good one. Hopefully this one will be the same. He wants hard work first and foremost, and I can’t imagine that will change now that I’m his assistant.”

Last Chance for MirastyJon Mirasty was playing it safe when he began planning for the end of his playing career this summer. He may have been a little premature.

The veteran tough guy looked to be out of career advancement options after playing for Sorel-Tracy of the North American Hockey League last season. Mirasty, 25, had never skated at a higher professional level than the ECHL, so an AHL gig seemed out of the question.

With his playing options apparently limited, Mirasty agreed to coach a Junior B team in Onion Lake, Saskatchewan, near his hometown of Meadow Lake.

“I played at that (lower minors) level of hockey for the last five or six years,” he said. “It was at a point where I wanted to come home. I think coaching would be a fun job. I’d get the itch (to play) a little bit, but I wasn’t worried about it at all.”

He may not have to hang up his skates just yet, though: The Syracuse Crunch is offering him a chance to scratch that itch to play one last time.

The Crunch, in need of a little extra toughness, is bringing him to camp on a tryout contract. Mirasty had similar chances with Lowell and Norfolk earlier in his career, but he’s yet to play in a real AHL contest. The chance to do so has put his potential coaching career on hold.

“The American League is a lot higher level. That’s why I decided to come back,” Mirasty said. “It’s a big goal of mine. I’d like to be able to play at that level. I’ve been preparing more than normal. It makes you curious to see what happens.”

Wardrobe Enhancement — When David Bell was named an assistant coach by the Springfield Falcons this month, he got more than a job: He also got a chance to add to his unique professional wardrobe collection.

Working for the Falcons fits right in for Bell, who has a colorful list of team nicknames — animal, human and otherwise — on his playing resume. He’s been a Riverfrog (Louisville, ECHL), a Matador (Miami, ECHL), a Grrrowl (Greenville, ECHL) an Iceman (Broome County, UHL), a Falcon (Springfield, AHL), a Pirate, (Portland, AHL), a Condor (Bakersfield, WCHL) and a Beacon (Port Huron, UHL).

Bell, 30, has collected workout gear from all of these teams. Much of it remains in his closet.

“I think I could open up a zoo,” he said of all the creature nicknames. “I don’t even know what you’d call some of the teams I played for. There’s some pretty neat ones.”

But here’s the thing about animals and other nasty characters: Sometimes they bite. That’s exactly the type of attitude Springfield needs after finishing next-to-last overall in 2006-07.

Bell, who spent the previous three seasons as an assistant coach with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League, was far more of a grinder than a scorer during his playing days as a defenseman. So was his new boss, Springfield head coach Kelly Buchberger, who compiled 2,297 penalty minutes in the NHL while scoring 105 goals.

So while it’s hard to predict how the Falcons will do this season, it’s a lot simpler to guess how they might approach the game.

“Kelly and I and Jeff (Truitt, the other assistant) all played the same way, all hard-nosed. We expect the same thing out of our players,’’ Bell said. “Between the three of us, I don’t know how many goals there were, but there were significantly more penalty minutes.”

Ready for Anything — Hockey players and coaches are almost always among the most cooperative interview subjects in sports. But if a prickly sort happens to roll through Iowa this season, Jill McMillan should be as well-prepared as anyone to deal with it.

McMillan is the Stars’ new director of media and community development. She got her training at Texas Tech, from where she graduated in 2006.

That would be the same school that’s home to colorful/surly basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight. McMillan was a broadcast journalism major and covered him many times for class assignments. As if that wasn’t blood pressure-raising enough, she also worked as a production assistant on the reality show he did for ESPN.

“You have to hold your breath every time he goes to the microphone. It’s not that he’s not well-mannered, but he’s a little rough,” she said. “He’s perceived as kind of a grumpy old man, and he can be. He’s perfectly comfortable being who people perceive him as. He was always picking on somebody, but always because he liked them.”

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