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Kaleta returns to familiar surroundings

For many of the Rochester Americans, Wednesday’s game with the St. John’s IceCaps in First Niagara Center was their first taste of playing a game in an NHL arena. Patrick Kaleta was not one of them.

The 29-year-old has played in 348 NHL games in his career, all with the Sabres. He’s back with the Amerks this season, hoping to earn another shot in Buffalo.

“I have a job, and I come here and support the guys who are getting their first experiences here,” Kaleta said. “I was happy to see Justin Bailey play here. He had a big smile as soon as he walked in the building. I felt like a proud papa watching my son go out there.”

Kaleta only played in a total of 12 games for Buffalo and Rochester in 2013-14, and then became a free agent in the summer. The Buffalo native joined the Sabres in training camp on a tryout basis, but it didn’t take long for him to suffer a severe groin injury.

“I pulled it in the second day of camp after having a strong first day,” the forward said. “With my situation, I would have been disappointed with myself if I didn’t give it a shot, so I tried to play with a pulled groin. But I pulled or tore it more. That’s the nature of the beast. If I was going down, I was going down swinging.”

Kaleta spent about two months on the sidelines, returning to duty with Rochester about a month ago. His contract status could change this weekend due to a clause that gives him the chance to talk to other teams. But clearly, he’s not in a hurry to depart.

“My goal and belief is with Buffalo, and that’s where I want to be,” he said.

Hometown hero: Williamsville native Justin Bailey played in his first professional game in the First Niagara Center. He even contributed one of the three Amerks’ goals in the shootout as Rochester defeated St. John’s, 3-2.

“As soon as you get out there for warmups, you look one way and see a person you know,” Bailey said. “Come the third period, you do as much as you can to get one.

“Anytime you can contribute, whether it’s a shootout or regular play, it’s always nice.”

Coach Randy Cunneyworth decided to give Bailey a chance to score in the shootout before a friendly audience. Bailey said after the game that he had about 40 or 50 friends and family members at the game.

Bailey played in two preseason games with the Sabres this season, but both were on the road. He was the Sabres’ second-round draft choice in 2013, and spent two years in junior hockey before joining Rochester this season.

The Amerks had a pair of one-goal leads in the game, but the IceCaps responded each time. Jerome Leduc and Brady Austin had the goals for Rochester, which ended a two-game losing streak.

Road trip for home game: The Americans have played a “home game” in Buffalo for the last few years. They practiced in Rochester Wednesday morning, and then came in for the game.

“It’s something special to come here,” Cunneyworth said. “It reminds them of the time at camp. This is what they aspire to. It’s pretty exciting. It’s a pretty nice room.”

In the seats: The attendance was listed as 17,671, but that number was for tickets distributed. There were a few thousand people in the building. To their credit, those who turned out were loud and enthusiastic during the contest.

Ouch: The Amerks suffered a couple of injuries during Wednesday’s game. Evan Rodrigues was hurt when he crashed into the net, while Michael McCarron was hit by a shot. Cunneyworth said Rodrigues had an upper body injury, and x-rays were negative. The coach said there would be more information on Rodrigues’ status later in the week.

Top of the charts: Jason Akeson is the Amerks’ leading scorer. He has 20 points, two more than Cal O’Reilly. Akeson spent last season with the Philadelphia organization, scoring 23 goals for Lehigh Valley (AHL). He had an assist during the game, and added a shootout goal – as did O’Reilly.