FAIRPORT, NY — The Rochester Jr. Americans are officially more than halfway through their inaugural NAHL season. With at a 15-13-3 record, they currently sit fifth in the East Division and in the hunt for a postseason spot.
After an impressive start, high expectations were set right off the bat. The Jr. Amerks proved early that their potent offense was going to create problems for opponents.
Over their first 12 contests, the Amerks averaged 3.91 goals per game, which stood first in the NAHL. Forwards Matteo Disipio and Massimo Gentile quickly became a dynamic duo as they still remain amongst the league leaders in points with 38 and 35 respectively. Luca Leighton was added to the roster to complement the scoring line. It remains the driving force offensively for the Americans throughout the first half of the season.
Rochester has been tested both physically and mentally. With injuries to key players and a handful of roster changes, the Amerks have relied on determination to sustain success.
Just two games into the season, goaltender Cole O’Donnell suffered a non-contact injury that had him sidelined for five weeks. With the injury, Florian Wade was thrusted into the starters net and played 11 straight games. During that stretch, no goaltender saw more minutes and made more saves than the Alaska native.
O’Donnell returned to play 12 of the next 14 games, including earning the first shutout in Jr. Amerks history with a 3-0 win over Johnstown. In December, O’Donnell was hurt again and placed on injured reserve, while Wade carried the Amerks to the holiday break. In seven out of his last eight starts, Wade is averaging a .935 save percentage.
The inaugural campaign has had its fair share of memorable moments. The Americans have won four games in overtime including some in comeback fashion. Gentile’s four game-winning-goals sits third in the NAHL, and has quickly earned the nickname “Massimo Magic”.
While still in prime position for the Robertson Cup Playoffs, the Jr. Americans know consistency needs to be a major focus in the new year.
The team has struggled on Friday’s before bouncing back on Saturday’s. In 14 games on Friday, the Americans have just 4 wins. In contrast, on Saturday’s the Jr. Amerks are 10-3-1. To this point, the Amerks have just one three game winning streak, but they are hoping to start stringing together a few solid weeks to solidify their spot in this tight playoff race.
As the season has gone on, Rochester has made steady improvements on their defensive game. The team has heavily relied on their captain Tyler Procious and Brown commit Alex Zakrzewski to carry the load on the backend. It is without question the best defensive pairing we’ve seen in the East Division and potentially the entire league.
The two puck distributors lug more minutes than anyone else on the roster. They are not only responsible inside their own but are also fantastic in transition. Procious sits third in the NAHL in points by defenseman with 27 total through 27 games played. Zakrzewski is not far behind with 21 of his own.
A younger defensive core of Chapman, Kichline, Farrow, Grant, Kneidel, and Reese are being tasked with elevating their game in the second half of the season.
One key for the Jr. Amerks through the final 29 games, is getting depth scoring. Outside of the Leighton – Gentile – Disipio line, the Amerks need the rest of the pack to continue generating chances. Landon Brownlee and Noah Vom Scheidt have been powerful players in more ways than one. Brownlee has scored eight goals with his heavy shot while Vom Scheidt’s 6’4” frame makes him incredibly valuable below the net. The full stats can be found here.
One area the Amerks definitely need to improve is the penalty kill. It currently sits last in the East Division, successful just over 70% of the time. Despite usually being the better five-on-five team, the penalty kill’s lack of success has been the thorn in their side. Special teams in the NAHL carries even more importance than it does in professional hockey. Today’s junior hockey consists of more skill and the extra space for opponents is proving detrimental for the Amerks. Even slight improvement will guarantee the Amerks more wins in the second half of the season.
Since dropping the puck in September, the excitement around the organization has not only spread across Western New York, but also the landscape of junior hockey. With theme nights and other fun promotions, the first year squad has consistently seen a packed Rochester Ice Center with some of the best atmospheres in the division.
Additionally, the Jr. Americans have used their platform to give back to the community. The team has raised over $17,000 for a plethora of organizations such as Foodlink, Golisano Children’s Hospital, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. For each of these promotions, the Jr. Amerks drew a capacity crowd. Other promotions such as $1 Hot Dog Night and our Whiteout Game highlight what has been an unforgettable first season at home.
“It’s been remarkable to see the growth in such a short amount of time,” Director of Marketing Kyle Cannillo said. “This community has embraced us with open arms. We can’t thank them enough for showing their support.”
“Our goal is to provide fans with a fantastic game experience for an unbeatable cost,” Cannillo said. “Between the quality of hockey, the atmosphere, and the price, what’s not to like? It’s a no-brainer!”
The facility improvements to the Rochester Ice Center have completely changed the feel inside the rink. The organization added a party deck giving fans a new viewing area while having the opportunity to purchase drinks and snacks.
Additionally, they’ve added special effects lighting, a goal horn, and most importantly… a state of the art videoboard. This ginormous screen has been a great compliment to the game experience.
On top of that, the team built an exclusive facility for the NAHL expansion franchise. The area includes a spacious locker room, a training room, equipment room, and laundry space. Inside are all the resources for players to feel their best.
Rochester will start the second half of their season in January with a six game homestead. However, immediately following, it will become a grueling road schedule to conclude the season. Rochester will play 17 of its final 23 games on the road. In terms of mileage, Rochester has to travel more than any other team in the division. Others are more clustered along the east coast, but all of Rochester’s trips will be anywhere between five to nine hours by bus.
The Jr. Amerks are poised and ready to resume their season at home on Jan. 5. If you thought the intensity was already high, it gets turned up a notch during the second half.
Be a part of the action and help create a rowdy atmosphere by getting your tickets here. For fans and folks around the organization, the hope is the team can continue striving towards a playoff berth in the new year.
Stay connected during the season by following the Jr. Amerks @JrAmerksNAHL on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and online at rochesterjramerks.com.
The Rochester Jr. Americans are members of the NAHL which is the oldest and largest junior hockey league of its kind in the United States and one of only two USA Hockey-certified leagues that operate under the non pay-to-play model. The NAHL is also one of the best at advancing players to NCAA and professional hockey. All league games are viewable via NAHLTV. For more information, visit rochesterjramerks.com.