ROCHESTER (LGS) — The Calder Cup; it is what every player in the American Hockey League strives for. When training camp started in the fall, every member of the Rochester Americans was focused on this time of the year. Well now, it is here.
Before the playoffs started, there was the task of finishing the regular season. Rochester heads to the post season on a tear having swept a home-and-home set with the Syracuse Crunch and a home tilt with their first round opponent Hamilton Bulldogs.
The weekend started on Friday night with Rochester skating to a 3-2 victory. Janis Sprukts led the way with a goal and two helpers. Also scoring for the Amerks were Clarke MacArthur and Michael Ryan.
Even more encouraging for Amerk fans was the play of goaltender Craig Anderson. “Andy” stopped 43 shots on the night to preserve the win.
Saturday night the Amerks headed East on the Thruway to the OnCenter in Syracuse. Rochester jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back in a 5-2 win.
David Booth, Anthony Stewart and Rob Globke each tallied markers for the Red, White and Blue. After the Crunch cut it to 3-1, Michael Ryan made it 4-1. Booth scored his second on the night with 2:57 remaining to seal the win.
Adam Dennis picked up the win, saving 44 of 46 shots he faced.
Sunday was a primer of game one of the Calder Cup playoffs; and if it was any preview of what is to come, Amerk fans will be smiling at the end. Rochester came away 2-1 winners, as Clarke MacArthur and Mark Mancari were the goal scorers.
Round One Forecast – Hamilton vs. Rochester Preview
Goaltending – Both teams head to the playoffs with solid goaltending. Minding the pipes for Rochester is the tandem of Craig Anderson and Adam Dennis. During the Amerks losing streak of late January, early February most of the attention was given to the lack of scoring due to the losses of Clarke MacArthur, Michael Ryan and Drew Stafford. Coinciding with the losing streak was the loss of Anderson to the Florida Panthers due to the season-ending injury to Alex Auld. Anderson has been solid all season long, going 23-10 on the year. Dennis has struggled at times; he is getting his feet underneath him and is ready for the playoffs to begin. Dennis finished the year with a record of 18 wins and 17 losses.
Hamilton is led by Yann Danis, who went 23-14 and Jaroslav Halak who went 16-11 on the year. Danis reminds me of a microwave. You do not really notice its there, but heats up in a hurry.
Advantage – Based on record, Danis and Halak was the better tandem. Rochester has one thing that Hamilton does not have, and that is Craig Anderson. Slightest of advantages to Hamilton.
Forwards – With the parent club Montreal Canadians out of the playoffs, Hamilton has all of their top guns ready for game one. Hamilton was lead by the foursome of Duncan Milroy (25g, 22a, 58p in 64 games) Corey Locke (20g, 35a, 55p), Mikhail Grabovski (17g, 37a, 54p) and Andrei Kostitsyn (21g, 31a, 52p in 50 games). The Amerks defense will have to keep watch of these gifted forwards. Kostitsyn and Locke generally play on the same line and have good chemistry. Kostitsyn had a fine point night against Rochester in December.
Rochester is loaded on offense. Lead by the fearsome foursome of Clarke MacArthur (21g, 42a, 63p), Janis Sprukts (18g, 41a, 59p), Mark Mancari (23g, 34a, 57p) and Michael Ryan (28g, 23a, 51p), this team knows how to fill the net. Add David Booth to the mix, and the red light has the potential to see a lot of action.
Advantage – I think that line for line, Rochester is deeper and has the ability to score more goals. However, Hamilton is dangerous, and history has shown that all it takes is for one or two players to get hot to take control of a series. I’ll give a slight advantage to Rochester.
Defense – Brandon Smith, Mikko Lehtonen, Timo Helbling, Mike Funk and Martin Lojek are the last line of defense for the Americans. Smith and Lojek are quick to rush the puck up the ice, and at times, it leaves their own zone vulnerable. Funk is improving and is developing into a solid professional player.
Hamilton’s defense is lead by Dan Jancevski who finished the year with 10 goals, 21 assists and a plus 22 in the plus/minus category. Also on the blue line for Hamilton is Andre Benoit (+15) and Mathieu Biron (7g, 14a, 21 p, 52 PIM, +9).
Advantage – They are deep, they are big, they move the puck well. Advantage Rochester.
Coaching – Randy Cunneyworth is coaching his last year in the American Hockey League and is second all time in wins in Rochester Americans history. Don Lever has been great in his time behind the bench for Hamilton.
Advantage – Cunneyworth as been great since his first year in Rochester; and has been an innovator in using video at the AHL level. Cunneyworth as cameras trained on the goaltenders, the offensive, neutral and defensive zones. “Cunney” is also a master motivator, knowing how to use the media and perceived slights by the opposition for his teams’ advantage. With that in mind, Rochester has the advantage here.
Series prediction – The season series was tied at five this year, and obviously, a playoff series cannot be tied. In the end, I think that Rochester will prevail in seven games.