By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The atmosphere in the KeyBank Center for professional hockey was a little different than normal on Wednesday night.
OK, I have stretched the truth a few yards. It was a lot different than normal.
The Rochester Americans came to town for a visit, as they played the Cleveland Monsters. The Amerks are the Sabres’ AHL affiliate. Cleveland is associated with the Columbus Blue Jackets. This was the first meeting of the season between teams on top of their division, and they were on their own to generate enthusiasm for the contest.
That’s because the place was more or less empty. It sort of felt like the type of crowd that would show up for a preseason practice … by the Bandits. There was no one in the 300 level – literally, no one. It was closed. A few of the suites showed some signs of life, and some fans were scattered about the lower bowl sections.
The ribbon boards in the building featured Amerks’ sponsors. The public address announcers were imported from the Flower City, and a trivia game about Rochester hockey history was held during a break. Some of the messages on the Jumbotron were for Rochester, while others were about the KeyBank Center. Some of the advertising signs on the boards were changed to Amerks-related sponsors. There certainly are contractual obligations on such matters, although whether AT&T cares if Buffalo fans know that it is the official wireless provider of the Americans is difficult to judge.
The concept isn’t a bad one. This is the one time of the year when Sabre fans have the chance to see some players from Rochester in person. Need I mention that ticket prices are not major league in nature? They were said to be $10 to $20. It’s easy to guess that the Amerks players like the idea of having a chance to play in a big-league rink, and a couple said they were.
But is worth it? You have to wonder about that. There are costs involved with opening the building for any purpose, and you’d have to think those aren’t covered by the gate receipts. There are extra costs getting people (players, coaches, game-night staff, and so on) and equipment from Rochester to Buffalo. The organization could spend money on marketing the game a little bit, but it probably wouldn’t help the size of the crowd much. Therefore, it seems like an experiment that has run its course for now.
But it’s not my money.
As for the game …
For those who think the Sabres are off to a (reasonably) good start, they are well behind their cousins to the East. The Americans brought an 8-3-1-0 record in Wednesday’s contest, and they added another win to the list with a dominating 5-2 outcome. Even by Rochester’s standards this season, this was a quality performance.
“It was a great win,” coach Chris Taylor said. “It was one of our best 60-minute games this year. I really liked every part of it – our goaltender, forwards and defense. I thought everyone did a great job. We stuck together when we got a little wobbly in our defensive zone, but Wedge (Scott Wedgewood) came up with some timely saves.”
If you had to pick someone before the game who figured to be a little excited to be playing in Buffalo, Justin Bailey was that member of the Americans. Bailey grew up in Williamsville and dreamed of becoming a Buffalo Sabre as a child. He’s still close to that goal, but sticking at this end of the Thruway has been difficult.
Bailey hadn’t even scored a goal this season in 11 contests, but he put two in the net against the Monsters. No doubt the winger exhaled a little when the first one went in.
“When you go 10 games without a goal, you try to clear your head and do the things that make you successful,” he said. “There’s pressure to score when you’re down here, trying to get to the next level. It’s been tough, but I’ve been trying to control what I can control and do the little things well. I have to stay confident in my game.”
Bailey has played parts of the last three seasons in Buffalo, including 12 games as a Sabre in 2017-18. The second-round draft pick in 2013 has only scored five goals in 52 games in the NHL, and the Sabres put him on waivers at the end of training camp. He cleared them on his way to the Amerks.
“When you go through waivers for the first time, it affects people differently.” Taylor said. “He felt a little bad about himself. Thirty teams passed on him. It’s tough. Maybe he felt like the organization had given up on him, but we didn’t give up. It’s all part of the process. A lot of guys go through that. He’s worked hard, although he felt a little sorry for himself, and picked himself up.”
Wayne Simpson also had two goals for the Amerks, while Zach Redmond also scored. West Seneca native Sean Malone played his first game of the season. A couple of other promising players, Lawrence Pilut and Rasmus Asplund had solid all-around games for Rochester.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)