Shinny? Don’t Mind if I Do.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Stephanie’s first post for Black & Blue & Gold. She’s going to head up our Rochester bureau, covering the Amerks. Everyone, say hi to Stephanie!
Hi, everyone. I’m Stephanie D and I’ll be bringing you news and opinion on the Rochester Americans. I’ve been an Amerks fan since I was in the womb (you can ask my mom), and a Sabres fan for almost as long. You may be tempted to consider me a puck bunny, but I assure you: I’m unlike any puck bunny you’ve ever met.
“This is my favorite place/My worries slip away/I could stay here for days and days and day and days …” (Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, My Favorite Place)
Outdoor shinny hockey has a special place in the heart of a lot of hockey fans. It brings back thoughts of pick up games on the pond, building goals out of snow when there was no other option, and playing until you couldn’t feel your hands or feet anymore. No boards to get in the way, no rules to hold you back, and not a care in the world except to beat your friends and maybe crack a beer at the end of the day.
The Amerks hit the great outdoors this morning for a little 3-on-3 tournament followed by an open skate with the fans. Initially, I was whining on Twitter that it was “stupid” to do it in the middle of the day on a Monday (WHO DOES THAT?), until I was reminded that today is a holiday, and kids were off from school. So, to the great outdoors we went, to watch the Amerks practice.
I had the chance, early on in the experience, to ask Coach Ron Rolston how the teams were decided, and he told me that he and the other coaches (except for Jay McKee and Chris Taylor) had a draft this morning, first thing. Essentially, all the names were put in a bowl and picked out into six teams – red, blue, green, gray, white, and black. Jay McKee and Chris Taylor both participated in the skate, and Jay’s team won overall. Rochester-native Derek Whitmore remark that it was unfair, since JayMc “is the best shot blocker ever in the world” (or something along those lines). Since the teams were only 4 each, three playing while one sat out, and the format was half-ice, there were no positions. The goaltenders joined their teammates at forward/defense and, while I’m sure that no one will be offering them a job outside of their creases, Marcus Foligno might provide a desperate team a good backup goaltender. It was really fun to be able to see the players having fun themselves. I think that a lot of us forget that these guys are human, too, and that they need a chance to smile, goof around, and relax once in a while.
Don’t get me wrong – the competitive edge was certainly there! There was an awful lot of chirping going on out on the ice, and a few not-so-family-friendly words were definitely shared. The scores were high and the smiles were wide, on and off the ice, even though the air was bitter cold. I overheard several players comment that they wouldn’t mind practicing like that every day, and that they also would be ok with staying at Manhattan Square Park all day and just playing. It really reaffirmed for me that this is a team that has meshed really well, on and off the ice. They clearly enjoy goofing around with each other and being around their fans. This has certainly translated to their play when it counts – these guys want to win, they want to hear the fans behind them, and they want to make Rochester proud of them.
The Amerks get their noses back to the grindstone tomorrow, with an actual practice, as they prepare to host the Oklahoma City Barons in back-to-back games at the end of this week. OKC currently sits second in the AHL, and first in the Western Conference, but lost their two prior games against Rochester in December. This will be OKC’s first visit to Rochester and the Blue Cross Arena.