Mark Mancari emerged from the tunnel to a roar. He waived his long arms like Ray Lewis giving a pre-game speech, then chucked a rubber-band bound T-shirt into the stands and pumped his fist again. Nearly all of the 8,589 people who paid to see the Rochester Americans' home opener had stuck around for a few more minutes to congratulate Mancari. They did so so loudly it drown out the public address announcer.
As the game's First Star finally disappeared back into the tunnel, it was easy to forget about the NHL and their problems. In fact, after the Amerks' 6-5 shootout win over the Syracuse Crunch – a game that featured several would-be NHL players, a blown three-goal lead, fights, scrums and skill – it was really easy to forget about a lot of things NHL related.
When Mancari scored a power play goal to tie the game a five, it was easy to forget the NHL setting the lowest rate for power plays per game last season since the 70s. When his wrist shot slipped just over the shoulder of goaltender Dustin Tokarski, it was easy to enjoy a career AHLer's homecoming and forget about the selfish millionaires' mediocre nightly efforts. And when Mancari beat the netminder in the shootout, it was really easy to think about the 8,589 who paid under $25 for a damn good hockey game.
“It was just like I remembered it,” said Mancari, who played in Rochester from 2005 to 2008. “Only with a lot more people in the stands.”
While the NHL and its players continued their staring contest, Blue Cross Arena welcomed hockey back to Western New York with a four-goal first period. Just 24 seconds after puck drop, would-be NHL'er Cody Hodgson set up should-be NHL'er Corey Tropp on a smooth 2-on-1 tap in to put Rochester up 1-0.
Yes, that will do.
With NHL talent on both sides, the pace of the game from the first puck drop barely resembled that of the AHL. The Crunch jumped on the board at 5:28 with a screen shot from the point.
It didn't take long for the Amerks net two more: one on some nifty stick work from Tropp for his second goal and another on a one-on-one shot from the slot by Marcus Foligno.
After one, 3-1.
“We want to make sure we are pushing the pace and they have to worry about shutting us down,” head coach Ron Rolston said.
The Amerks opened up the second period the way they ended the first: with a goal. Rookie AHL'er Mark Pysyk scored his first career professional goal at 3:22 on a point shot that deflected off a Syracuse player and into the net.
Predictably, the Crunch didn't stay down for long. Because of an affiliation change, Syracuse is now made up of nearly the same roster as last year's Calder Cup winning team.
“We knew that they would wake up,” Rolston said.
After killing off a long 5-on-3, a bizarre call led to another penalty. Unbeknownst to Rolston, an additional player was required to be in the penalty box to serve the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was added on to a Foligno penalty. The mix up led to another two-minute penalty and an eventual goal by Mike Angelidis, who was following up a breakaway by winger J.T. Wyman.
Canisius product Cory Conacher was left wide open in front of Leggio and beat the Amerks' goalie on his glove side to close the gap to one goal.
In a span of 2:08, speedy forward Tyler Johnson scored two goals, both assisted by Conacher, to give the Crunch their first lead of the game.
Up by one with just under 10 minutes left, Crunch winger Ondrej Palat took a tripping penalty and Amerks' power play wizard Mancari took over, sniping a wrist shot underneath the cross bar to tie the game.
The final 10 minutes were a flurry of rushes and chances, but no goals.
Shootout. Why not?
After five straight stops by shootout extraordinaire Leggio, and four stops by his counterpart, Mancari finished it off with the shootout's only goal to give the Amerks the win.
From the locker room...
“I was confident in the lineup we were sending out there.,” Leggio said. “I saw Mancari going. It's nice to have him back on my team.”
“We showed we weren't going to quit,” Mancari said. “Guys stuck up for each other. It was good.”
“We could have easily sat there with our heads down,” Foligno said. “But we came back as hard as they came back.”
“We only play those guys nine more times,” coach Rolston said with a laugh.
Nine more games like that? Rochester fans might not be missing the NHL for awhile.
Cody Hodgson - Showed superior offensive skill and made several nice plays on the defensive side of the ice. Also killed penalties.
Mark Pysyk - Has mature puck-handling skills and made several outstanding shots and sharp passes. Panicked at times in his own zone with the puck
Zemgus Girgensons - Played a very physical game. Decked the first guy he saw on very first shift. Hard on the boards. Saw limited playing time as they ease him into the AHL level.
Brayden McNabb - Sometimes a stay-at-home defenseman plays his best game when unnoticed. That was McNabb. Played very solid game, moved the puck well and limited mistakes.
Drew Schiestel - A surprise to see in the line up. Also had a solid game. Shaky at first, but turned things around. Made a great shot block to stop a breakaway chance.
Luke Adam - Made a nice play to keep the puck in and fling it to the net to set up Tropp goal. Decent offensive effort. As usual didn't add much on the defensive side.
Corey Tropp - Looked like the best player on the ice in the first period. Left in the third with a lower body injury. No word on the severity.
Matt MacKenzie - Moved the puck well and showed burst as a skater. May come to surprise some people this year. Kept up with the speed of big-time talent of the Crunch.