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Cunneyworth returns to Rochester with a win-win philosophy

Over the past few seasons, Randy Cunneyworth has been out of the grind of daily coaching. He worked for the Buffalo Sabres in player development without the worries and stressors that come with being a bench boss.

His tasks were much more individualized – looking at players and identifying what they needed to reach the ultimate level of professional hockey while best serving the organization.

That knowledge combined with his vast experience as a head coach make Cunneyworth excited to return to Rochester to lead the Amerks this season.

“You try to form some sort of picture what a guy can do, what he needs to work on, how he can fit into the NHL club,” Cunneyworth said. “So over the last couple of years, I’ve been getting to know some of these guys making the jump to pro hockey and being part of our organization. You can put them into the best position to succeed by knowing them as well as making them more effective players.”

Preparations were so intense that Cunneyworth only had time to speak by phone during Sabres training camp. He had coaches meetings upon coaches meetings to smooth out systems and special teams and all the nitty gritty so that the organization – from the Sabres to the Amerks in the AHL to the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL – could be on the same page with regards to philosophy.

Cunneyworth has his own philosophy after years behind the bench. The forward who began his NHL playing career with the Sabres in 1980-81 and ended it with the team in 1998-99 spent eight seasons coaching Rochester from 2000 to 2008. Six of those eight years resulted in playoff teams, and his 306 wins rank second in team history.

Winning has a lot to do with his philosophy. Winning creates confidence, and players who are confident create opportunities to live the NHL dream. The Amerks will be looking to make the playoffs again after missing the cut last year. They have not advanced past the first round since 2005.

“To me winning goes hand in hand with becoming a better player, a more confident player,” Cunneyworth said. “And a more confident player translates into doing a better job of whatever you do for your team. Obviously if you’re not winning the confidence is not there and you have a lot of doubts and questions as to what you need to do. It’s just a lot easier to have that confidence in yourself as a player when you’re winning.

“I think that’s the biggest difference the last couple of years. It hasn’t been a real fun place to be around. That’s the task – a complete turnaround for the group in Buffalo, in Rochester. Just taking steps toward that would be great.”

That winning environment doesn’t develop in a bubble. It’s born in large part from camaraderie on a team, believing that supporting one another leads to the greater good along with individual success. That’s what Cunneyworth remembers from the playoff teams he coached in Rochester.

“When I think back to a lot of those years, the best teams were the ones which cared the most about each other on and off the ice,” Cunneyworth said. “Nobody got pushed around on those teams because anybody that wanted to take on one guy had to take on the whole group.

“That feeling goes beyond the boards and the ice. You want to do things with guys. When you get a night out to go to a movie or a good dinner, you don’t have 10 different groups out separate. The majority of the guys, with a few exceptions, are together at one or two places.

“That’s the goal. You can’t make guys care for each other, to want to be around each other. You hope it happens naturally. It’s easier said than done, but that’s what we work toward.”

The Amerks open the regular season at 7:05 p.m. Friday in Blue Cross Arena when they host Lake Erie. The team plays its annual game in First Niagara Center at 7:05 p.m. Dec. 30 against St. John’s.

Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste will begin their professional careers with the Amerks.

Justin Kea split last season, his first as pro, between Rochester and Elmira and will look to be a key offensive contributor.

Dan Catenacci returns after scoring 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) in his second full season with the Amerks.

Andrey Makarov should be the team’s starting goalie. Rookie Matt Garbowsky will begin his pro career down the street from where he had a breakout college career at RIT.

Rochester Americans 2015-16 schedule

Oct. 9  Lake Erie, 7:05

Oct. 10 Utica,  7:35

Oct. 16 at St. John’s 6

Oct. 17 at St. John’s, 6

Oct. 21 at Utica, 7

Oct. 23 Toronto, 7:05

Oct. 25 Syracuse, 5:05

Oct. 30 at Springfield, 7

Oct. 31 at Portland, 3

Nov. 1 at Hartford, 5

Nov. 6 Binghamton, 7:05

Nov. 13 at Lehigh Valley, 7:05

Nov. 14 at W-B/Scranton, 7:05

Nov. 15 at Hershey, 5

Nov. 18 Toronto, 7:05

Nov. 20 Bridgeport, 7:05

Nov. 21 at Toronto, 5

Nov. 25 Syracuse, 7:05

Nov. 27 St. John’s, 7:05

Nov. 28 at Binghamton, 7:05

Dec. 4 Toronto, 7:05

Dec. 5 at Albany, 5

Dec. 9 Utica, 7:05

Dec. 11 at St. John’s, 6

Dec. 12 at St. John’s 6

Dec. 16 at Utica, 7

Dec. 18 Hartford, 7:05

Dec. 19 Albany, 7:35

Dec. 26 Utica, 7:05

Dec. 27 Hartford, 5:05

Dec. 30 St. John’s 7:05 (at First Niagara Center)

Jan. 2 at Bridgeport, 7

Jan. 3 at Providence, 5:05

Jan. 8 Hershey, 7:05

Jan. 9 at Binghamton, 7:05

Jan. 10 Syracuse, 5:05

Jan. 13 at Albany, 7

Jan. 15 Binghamton, 7:05

Jan. 16 at Binghamton, 7:05

Jan. 18 Syracuse, 3:05

Jan. 22 at Grand Rapids, 7

Jan. 23 at Grand Rapids, 7

Jan. 27 Syracuse, 7:05

Jan. 29 Binghamton, 7:05

Jan. 30 at Utica, 7

Feb. 5 at Syracuse, 7

Feb. 6 at Binghamton, 7:05

Feb. 12 Albany, 7:05

Feb. 13 at Albany, 5

Feb. 14 at Hartford, 3

Feb. 19 Portland, 7:05

Feb. 20 at Syracuse, 7

Feb. 21 W-B/Scranton, 5:05

Feb. 25 at Lake Erie, 7

Feb. 27 at Toronto, 3

March 4 Springfield, 7:05

March 5 Toronto, 7:35

March 11 Utica, 7:05

March 12 at Syracuse, 7

March 13 Binghamton, 5:05

March 16 Lehigh Valley, 7:05

March 19 at Binghamton, 7:05

March 20 Providence, 5:05

March 23 St. John’s, 7:05

March 25 St. John’s, 7:05

March 26 at Syracuse, 7

March 29 at Utica, 7

April 1 Grand Rapids, 7:05

April 2 at Syracuse, 7

April 3 Grand Rapids, 5:05

April 8 Binghamton, 7:05

April 9 Lake Erie, 7:35

April 10 at Lake Erie, 5

April 15 Albany, 7:05

April 16 at Toronto, 5

April 17 at Toronto, 3

email: amoritz@buffnews.com