It probably wasn’t the scene that Ron Rolston expected to see on the first day of training camp for the Rochester Americans. Not only was the head coach able to run his troops through their paces in the cozy confines of First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo, but he had a whopping 34 players in attendance. Normally AHL camps open with a bare bones roster, and don’t increase until final cuts are made from the parent club. With the Sabres in lockout mode, the second-year bench boss was enjoying having to deal with two groups of 17 players.
“It’s quite a bit different. Usually you have to wait for guys to get sent down. I think at last year’s camp we started with just three lines,” said Rolston. “But it’s a great scenario for us to have this many players and this much depth. When you look at the guys out there, we have 10 defensemen on the ice that can play in this league at a very high level. It’s the same up front; we’ve got a lot of depth up there. It’s a good situation for us because right off the bat it puts us in an environment where we have to be competitive, and the guys have to compete for jobs. That’s the kind of team we want to be – difficult to play against. I think this is just going to add to that because of the competition here.”
Sabres GM Darcy Regier spoke to the media following today’s second session, and said he’s already started to make use of the free time that he’s been afforded due to the lockout.
“I actually got up to Quebec City; I saw (Mikhail) Grigorenko play last weekend in his first two games (with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts),” Regier said. “I will see more junior games, do more scouting. And obviously we’ll spend a lot of time in Rochester. But we’ll find ways to get better as an organization in this period as well.”
Regier was impressed with Grigorenko’s play last weekend, saying that he’s already shown improvement since watching him at the Canada-Russia Junior Challenge series in August.
“Offensively he had six points – four in the first game and two in the second. I actually liked his play in the second game more, when he set up the first two goals. I’d seen him in Halifax (in August), and he was more involved five-on-five this time. That’s a very good hockey club that Patrick Roy has in Quebec and he’s a big part of it. He’s their number one center and he’s playing with a couple of really good players. It’s a good team, and I think Patrick expects him to be the go-to-guy when he’s there. It’s an opportunity for him to grow as well.”
Forward Mark Mancari arrived at camp a shell of his former self. The 6-foot-4 winger returned to Buffalo 20 pounds lighter, after spending last season with the Vancouver Canucks organization. A seventh-round pick of the Sabres in 2004, Mancari realized that bigger isn’t better, and reported to camp at a svelte 208 pounds.
“I spent the summer working extremely hard. I lost a lot of weight, and I tried to work on my foot speed a little bit,” explained Mancari. “I think with the NHL changing, and rules changing, I thought that being big, heavy and strong was the way to go. Obviously I think I made a mistake in that decision. This year being lighter, I already feel better out there. It’s only been one skate but I definitely feel better, and I feel like I’ve taken a step in the right direction.”
Mancari has posted back-to-back 30+ goal seasons, and has averaged almost 30 goals over his last four AHL campaigns. Regier was pleased to see the changes that Mancari has made, and believes he can make an immediate impact in Rochester.
“If you look at what was one of the inhibitors of him making the next step, it was foot speed. When you lose that weight, that’s certainly going to help with your feet. He’s a smart player and someone who works hard on improving. He’s a leaner, meaner Mark Mancari who can score goals, and I think that’s great for the organization.”
Forward Evan Rankin was the only player missing from today’s on-ice sessions, as he was battling a virus.
It’s an early wake-up call for the players on Saturday, with practices scheduled for 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. at First Niagara Center. These are both closed to the public. The Amerks will open the Rochester portion of training camp on Sunday at Blue Cross Arena at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
General admission tickets for the Amerks’ home preseason game at The Sports Centre at MCC versus the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 7:05 p.m. are now on sale for $5 and can be purchased at the Customer Service desk inside The Sports Centre at MCC or at the Amerks Main Office located at The Blue Cross Arena.