Once the Sabres send their junior prospects back to their respective teams, the club then decides which players need more seasoning in the minor leagues. Some of these demoted players are career minor-leaguers, but there is usually a handful of prospects that possess definite NHL potential.
The first 14 players sent to Rochester’s camp from Buffalo included the following: goaltenders Tom Askey and Reg Bourcier; forwards Milan Bartovic, Alan Fyfe, Ales Kotalik, Jaroslav Kristek, Karel Mosovsky and Andrew Peters; and defensemen Doug Houda, Mike Hurlbut, Doug Janik, Mario Larocque, Luc Theoret and Brad Williamson. The Amerks later cut Fyfe and Williamson.
The players in this initial grouping that garnered the most notice from Buffalo’s coaches were Bourcier, Bartovic and Kristek. Goaltender Reg Bourcier is a free agent who last season played for Mobile of the ECHL (37 GP, 14-9-5, 3.53). Reg is a smaller goaltender who relies on his quickness and good positioning to stop the puck, skills that were in evidence during the camp scrimmages. Given the fact that Mika Noronen and Tom Askey will most likely be the Amerk’s goaltenders, Bourcier will probably provide further depth for the Buffalo organization as a backstop for the South Carolina Stingrays.
Bartovic and Kristek are two right wings that saw their first AHL action last season. Milan didn’t join the Amerks until shortly before the playoffs, but he impressed in his short audition by displaying his great speed and offensive skills. Kristek’s season ended early due to dual shoulder injuries, but he made a good impression during the early portion of the 00-01 season.
The forward talent level in Rochester increased as Buffalo’s camp progressed, with players such as RW/LW Jeremy Adduono, RW Christian Matte, C Francois Methot and LW Darren Van Oene. These four players appeared in at least 2 of Buffalo’s preseason games, but did not make enough of an impression to stick with the Sabres.
The previous foursome were joined a day later by G Mika Noronen. Mika’s arrival in Rochester was pretty much a foregone conclusion, which rankled the young goaltender. Mika struggled throughout camp, although he did turn in a solid performance in his one preseason start (vs. Columbus). Noronen felt that his lack of a real opportunity to challenge Martin Biron for the top spot in Buffalo may have been a factor in his struggles, but a loss of 10 lbs. may also been a negative influence on his performance.
The final three pieces in the Amerk’s puzzle were added following the completion of Buffalo’s preseason schedule, as defensemen Brian Campbell and Rory Fitzpatrick, along with center Chris Taylor, were sent to Rochester. The fact that Taylor and Fitzpatrick were sent down was not that surprising, as they are expected to be depth players in the organization. The demotion of Campbell was somewhat more surprising, as it was generally thought that Brian would make a serious run at a roster spot.
Brian was solid throughout training camp, as coach Lindy Ruff singled him out for praise on more than one occasion. Campbell continued his steady play through Buffalo’s first 2 preseason games, but was not as effective in the remaining games. Brian is viewed as being an offensive defenseman, so the fact that he finished the preseason with no points could not have helped his standing with the coaching staff. That, and the fact that Jason Woolley appears to have rebounded from a sub-par year, were most likely the main contributing factors to Campbell’s demotion.
Rochester’s roster is not yet set in stone, as the signing of Erik Rasmussen should mean that at least one more player will be sent down from Buffalo. Regardless, the Amerks roster should look something like this on opening day:
Center: Chris Taylor, Francois Methot, Craig Charron
Right Wing: Christian Matte, Jaroslav Kristek, Milan Bartovic, Ales Kotalik
Left Wing: Jeremy Adduono, Darren Van Oene, Karel Mosovsky, Andrew Peters
Defense: Doug Houda, Mike Hurlbut, Brian Campbell, Rory Fitzpatrick, Mario Larocque,
Doug Janik, Luc Theoret
Goal: Mika Noronen, Tom Askey
Rochester coach Randy Cunneyworth will return for a 2nd season.
The Amerks had a 3-game preseason slate, going 1-2 in those games. The first 2 contests, vs. newly re-born but old-time rivals the Cleveland Barons, were taken by the Barons. Cleveland won the first game 2-1, with Karel Mosovsky netting the lone Rochester goal. The Barons whitewashed the Amerks 3-0 in the second game. Rochester closed out the preseason with a 4-3 victory over the Manitoba Moose. Amerk goal-scorers in this game were Doug Houda, Jeremy Adduono, Ales Kotalik and Darren Van Oene.
Buffalo’s other minor league affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, will begin the defense of their ECHL crown on 10/12. The Stingrays are in the process of putting their team together, but their roster should consist of players from last year’s championship team, as well as a handful of players that didn’t make the cut in Rochester.
The NCAA season will begin in October, with Buffalo having 2 prospects playing Division I hockey. Hobey Baker winner Ryan Miller will lead the Michigan State Spartans, as they begin their season on 10/6 vs. rival Michigan in the much-ballyhooed outdoor game at Spartan Stadium. This contest will set the attendance record for a hockey game, but could also be a great showcase of Miller’s goaltending skill. Buffalo’s other college prospect, LW Mike Pandolfo, will begin his senior season for Boston University on 10/13. Mike had an average 2000-01 season, but a strong playoff, so he’ll be looking to build on that playoff performance.
Across the Atlantic, the Sabres have a handful of prospects playing in European leagues. 2001 draft picks Jiri Novotny and Michal Vondrka are teammates on Budejovice of the top Czech league, while Russians Artem Kriukov and Denis Denisov hope to stick in the Russian Superleague. As previously mentioned, prospects Calle Aslund and Marek Dubec have returned to their respective countries to continue their development.
Part III: Making The Cut and Preseason Statistics