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Rochester, Buffalo: two cities -- one cause; Sabres reunite with Amerks

Terry Pegula couldn't help but chuckle. The craziness of the past year struck as he and daughter Kelly walked through the back door of Blue Cross Arena for his introduction as owner of the Rochester Americans.

"I said to my daughter, 'Just what we need, another hockey arena,' " Pegula said with a grin Wednesday. "This is basically No. 3. It's been a lot of work."

The burgeoning hockey magnate formally added to his portfolio Wednesday, bringing the Amerks into the Buffalo Sabres' family. The reunion between the NHL team and its longtime minor-league club was announced last week, and the sale will close today.

"This is not an affiliation, this is a unification," said Ted Black, who will serve as president of both teams. "Although there are two cities and to some extent two teams, there is one owner, and that's a tremendous benefit."

Dubbing the 70-mile corridor between Buffalo and Rochester as "University of Sabres," Pegula foresees the close proximity helping the franchise's prospects on and off the ice.

"We have our university where we can teach players not only about hockey, but a lot of these young guys that come in, they need to develop other skills," said Pegula, who funded an arena and helped establish Division I hockey at Penn State last fall. "Our plan is to make this franchise a shining star that will develop our players."

The Sabres and Amerks were affiliated for 29 years, a partnership that ended in 2008 when Buffalo moved its minor-league headquarters to Portland. Driving down the Thruway brought back memories for Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier.

"It was a sad day when the Buffalo Sabres and the Rochester Americans stopped working together," he said. "This opportunity makes you recognize what we had. We had a great thing in Portland, but this makes you realize the opportunities that were lost and now are regained.

"We missed it a lot just from the ability to come and see the players, support the players and teach the players. Ultimately, we think we can do so much more on the development side. Players need to know they have the support of the NHL organization. To be able to bring people down here on a daily basis to either teach or support is critical to their growth."

The pairing of hockey teams made sense to Pegula long before he took over the Sabres in February. Once he assumed ownership, the reunion moved quickly. Kim Pegula, the owner's wife who is from the Rochester area, met with then-Amerks owner Curt Styres in March. Negotiations escalated from there, culminating in a reported $5 million deal.

"This is as important an event as we possibly could have had to finish the 75th anniversary season of the American Hockey League," said AHL President David Andrews.

The Sabres wasted no time connecting with the Rochester fans. Black announced a season-ticket rate of $10 per game for every seat in the house, from the front row to the last.

"We want to fill this building up," Black said. "We know the fans here are committed."

The Sabres still need to name a coach for their minor-league club. Regier said interviews will be conducted during the next few weeks. He also said portions of training camp will be held in Rochester in 2012. Black is investigating the possibility of televising Amerks games in Buffalo.

The franchises are unified, and so is their goal.

"We're committed to doing whatever we can to win the Stanley Cup," Black said. "In order to accomplish that goal, building a winning AHL franchise that develops players is a very key component."