With the help of a couple players on condition assignments from the Buffalo Sabres and a four-point night from Philip Varone, the Rochester Americans were able to come out on top against the Hershey Bears on the night of their 60th anniversary celebration.
With more than three dozen alumni in attendance and goaltender Robin Lehner and defenseman Mark Pysyk on loan from the Sabres, the Amerks fought back from a two-goal deficit. Daniel Catenacci scored the game-winner 51 seconds into the third period of a 5-4 victory.
"I think the fact that the building was full, I think they want to play to that," Amerks coach Randy Cunneyworth told Amerks.com. "The other part is to win more, people will come and I think you have to build that excitement and earn it. Our fans are the best around; I think they proved it tonight."
Varone earned the primary assist on Rochester's first goal, dishing a pass from behind the net to set up Cal O'Reilly's fourth goal of the season just 2:29 into the game. Hershey, however, stormed back and jumped out to a 3-1 lead by the end of the first period. Lehner was initially rusty in his first game action since Oct. 8, allowing three goals on the first nine shots he faced.
The Amerks pulled it together in the second. Varone earned a helper on Nicholas Baptiste's goal 2:03 into the period then scored one of his own with a one-time slap shot from the right circle to tie the game 3-3. Evan Rodrigues gave the Amerks a 4-3 lead with a tip on the power play a few minutes later, but Hershey scored to tie it again before period's end.
It took less than a minute into the third period for Catenacci to score on a loose puck from the outer edge of the left circle. Catenacci's goal was the only score of the night that didn't involve Varone.
"That was fun," Varone said. "Especially for the guys coming back, I know back in the day they were used to winning so we wanted to put up a good effort for them tonight."
Catenacci and Bobby Sanguinetti each scored power-play goals in the first five minutes of Rochester's game on Saturday in Binghamton. Thanks to an outstanding effort in net by Nathan Lieuwen, that was all the offense the Amerks needed in a 2-1 win over the Senators.
O'Reilly assisted on both goals, Varone and Rodrigues each added a helper and Lieuwen made 37 saves for the Amerks, who were outshot 38-24. Rochester's penalty kill held Binghamton scoreless in three power-play opportunities.
Sanguinetti opened the scoring 1:23 into the contest, scoring on a slap shot from the point that saw its way through net-front traffic just four seconds after Binghamton's Mark Fraser was assessed a double-minor. Rochester went on the power play again 4:41 into the period; this time it took Catenacci only five seconds into the power play to score from the slot on a feed by O'Reilly.
The Senators finally breached Lieuwen when Buddy Robinson redirected a wrister to make it 2-1 with 6:14 remaining in the contest. Lieuwen held strong the rest of the way, however, shutting the door on his ninth win of the season.
Lehner was back in net again for the Amerks against the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday. This time, he allowed only two goals but Rochester took a loss by a score of 2-1.
Jeff Tambellini scored for Syracuse just 1:31 into the contest to give the Crunch an early 1-0 lead. That score held until the beginning of the third period, when Henri Ikonen scored a one-time goal to make it 2-0. Jason Akeson scored on the power play with 10:06 remaining to pull the Amerks within one, but a second goal eluded them.
Lehner made 20 saves in the loss. Afterward, he discussed how much progress he had made in his two games in Rochester.
"It's helped tremendously," he said. "I feel like there are a lot of positives and there are a few things I've got to work on, and that was nothing I didn’t expect coming down here. This is a great league, I've played in this league for a few years and it's not like you're going to come down here and it's going to be easy."
1. Jason Akeson 23 points (7+16)
2. Cal O'Reilly 23 points (4+19)
3. Phil Varone 19 points (10+9)
4. Nick Baptiste 15 points (7+8)
5. Jerome Leduc 13 points (6+7)
Evan Rodrigues 13 points (4+9)
1. Nathan Lieuwen 9-6-0-0, 2.97 GAA, .910 save percentage
2. Andrey Makarov 6-7-1-0, 3.09 GAA, .907 save percentage
3. Robin Lehner 1-1-0, 3.04 GAA, .880 save percentage
O'REILLY NAMED AHL ALL-STAR
Just as his brother Ryan was announced as an NHL All-Star last Wednesday, O'Reilly was selected to represent the Amerks in the 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Classic, which will take place Jan. 31-Feb. 1 in Syracuse, N.Y.
It’s the fourth AHL All-Star selection for O'Reilly, who also earned the distinction in 2009, 2010 and 2015. The Amerks captain is currently tied with Akeson for the team lead with 23 points.
Lehner will remain with Rochester until Wednesday and potentially start for the Amerks in their game that night against the Devils in Albany. After that, the Amerks will take on the Senators for a home-and-home set that begins Friday night at Blue Cross Arena and concludes Saturday night in Binghamton.
Rochester hosts Syracuse again on Monday for a 3 p.m. contest on Teacher Appreciation Day. Teachers in the Rochester area can receive two complimentary tickets to the game here, while students with an A or an equivalent grade in any subject on their most recent report card can receive a complimentary ticket at the Blue Cross Arena box office.