For one night – and with the way things are going, it may be one night only – First Niagara Center will be alive with professional hockey.
The Rochester Americans are making Buffalo their home tonight at 7:30, hosting Hamilton in an American Hockey League game at the foot of Washington Street. The minor-leaguers for the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens will temporarily fill the void created by the NHL lockout.
“I think the guys will be excited to play over in Buffalo,” Amerks coach Ron Rolston said by phone Monday.
Rolston and a busload of familiar faces arrived in town Monday to get settled. The Amerks are 3-2 this season and are being led by players who have previously skated in Sabreland.
Left wing Marcus Foligno leads the team with five goals and eight points. Center Cody Hodgson has seven assists. Defenseman T.J. Brennan also has seven points, including three goals.
The Amerks games have usually been high-scoring affairs. They are second in the AHL with 20 goals and have allowed 21, the most in the league.
“This past weekend was actually good offensively for us,” said Rolston, whose team is coming off a 4-3 win against Grand Rapids and an 8-7 victory in Hershey. “We did a better job of simplifying and getting guys to the net and getting pucks there. It’s been a good recipe.”
Rochester scored four power-play goals in Hershey and ranks fourth in the league with a 31 percent success rate. Rolston credits the point men, who have an ideal mix of playmaking skills and cannon shots.
The shooters are Brennan and right wing Mark Mancari, who are paired with slick passers Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk, respectively.
“Those two in terms of their shots, they can both blister it,” Rolston said. “Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb have been doing a real good job kind of quarterbacking things up there and putting it where they need it to shoot it. It takes everybody, and Marcus and Evan Rankin on the one unit and then you’ve got Luke Adam on the other unit that did a good job net front and getting traffic in there.”
Foligno had a career-best four-point night last game, scoring twice and adding two assists.
He’s picking up where he left off last season with the Sabres.
“He started off a little slow,” Rolston said. “I think his game has really come along. Again, I think it was just getting back into the swing of things and playing the way he needs to play to be effective and have that kind of success. When he’s hard and driving the net, and getting to the net away from the puck and attacking with the puck, he’s a player that can put up a lot of points. He has certainly done that the last couple of games.”
Hamilton has five players who skated for the Montreal Canadiens last season: forwards Aaron Palushaj, Louis Leblanc, Gabriel Dumont, Blake Geoffrion and Mike Blunden. The Bulldogs are 2-1 with eight goals for and nine allowed.
There is still no sign whether anyone will play for the Sabres or Canadiens this season.
The NHL and its players’ association failed to meet Monday for the fourth straight day, and no meetings are scheduled.
The league said last week that it needs to have a collective bargaining agreement in place by Thursday in order to have a full 82-game season. The NHL put forward a proposal that would split revenues 50-50 last Tuesday, and the NHLPA responded with three counteroffers Thursday. All were immediately rejected.
“We indicated that we’re prepared to have discussions, that we’re prepared to look for tweaks or adjustments, but we believe this is the deal that this league needs to get the games going,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said after the last meeting. “The franchises all believe and are supportive of the positions that have been taken. In fact, a number of franchises actually thought we went too far in what we offered to get the season going. But everybody, including those folks who thought we went too far, are so committed to trying to get the game going that we gave it our best shot.”