For the sixth straight year, the Rochester Americans will open the season at home, hosting the Syracuse Crunch in Blue Cross Arena at 7:05 p.m. Friday. Here's what you need to know:
1. The Amerks want to instill a winning culture. While the playoff drought in Rochester isn't as pronounced as it is for the parent Buffalo Sabres, the Amerks are looking to make the postseason for the first time since 2014. Since then they've endured three losing seasons. And the six-time Calder Cup champions haven't advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2005.
While minor league hockey is often focused on development and depth, all in service of the parent club, winning can be a big part of that development.
"Once you become a team then everyone does well and everyone has success," new Amerks head coach Chris Taylor said. "I think that's the way we've got to approach it and the players have to approach it, because you can't do it by yourself. Especially the way we want to do it in this organization, it has to be as a team. If you don't play as a team, then it's not going to work for you as an individual. That's our whole culture. That's how we're going to do it. That's what it's all about.
2. The "old guys" are pretty important. There were some big off-season moves for the Amerks which brought veteran players to the team, including center Kevin Porter and defenseman Nathan Paetsch. The two will play a key role in establishing a new culture for the Amerks, one that looks at a team game and winning as a way to individual success.
Porter, 31, is making his third stint as the Amerks captain, who also wore the "C" in Rochester for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. Since then, Porter has won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and spent time with their AHL club, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Last season Paetsch, 34, won the Calder Cup with the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he was captain while the 29-year-old Fedun was an alternate captain for Rochester last season.
3. Speaking of the veterans, the Amerks are stacked. With the addition of 27-year-old defenseman Zach Redmond this week, the Amerks now have seven players with the AHL veteran designation. Per league rules, only five veterans can play in a game.
"We’ll have to look at that and make sure we put guys where they’re supposed to be, and the best players are going to play," Taylor said.
Redmond comes to Rochester from the trade the Sabres made which sent Nic Deslauriers to the Montreal Canadiens.
"He has a lot of experience in the back end," Taylor said of Redmond. "He's going to help our power play out with a right-hand shot. We're very happy to have him.
4. The young guys have plenty to prove. Forwards Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste have been on the cusp of an NHL career. They were battling to make the Sabres roster out of training camp but both start the season with Rochester. Baptiste played 14 games for the Sabres last season while Bailey played in 32. They certainly provide depth for Buffalo, but their goal is not to be depth players. How they handle starting the season in the AHL will be a key moment in their development.
Also back in Rochester is Hudson Fasching, who missed major time last year with a groin injury. Look for Linus Ullmark to continue his development as the Amerks' starting goalie.
5. Welcome the Conacher Brothers. The Amerks opening night opponent features two Western New York collegiate connections. Cory Conacher and Shane Conacher both played at Canisius College. Cory has been at the pro game for a while, returning to North America last year to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was the leading point getter for the Crunch with 60 points in just 56 games, including a career-high 43 assists. Cory also added four points (one goal, three assists) in 11 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Shane will make his Syracuse debut. He left Canisius after his junior season to sign with the Toronto Marlies only to have an injury delay the start to his season last year. He went to Tampa Bay's training camp on a professional tryout then signed with the Crunch.