The Rochester Amerks have worked through a lot of tough breaks this year. They lost their top scorers to the NHL after the lockout. The 'Merks saw their coach and captain both be bumped up on the same day. And injuries. Man, there have been a lot of injuries.
On Friday night, however, the Amerks caught a good break. Forward Corey Tropp returned to the lineup after missing 64 games with a torn ACL and partially torn MCL. The injury was supposed to keep him out the entire year, but he returned well before his ETA.
“I was really surprised,” head coach Chadd Cassidy said of Tropp's early return. “In terms of the reports we got were, the doctors were astounded with the kind of recovery he made. That's attributed to him. He worked really hard on his rehab and everything went as good as it could have gone.”
The Sabres' prospect winger made his presence felt immediately. On just his third shift, Tropp drove in over the blue line and fed center Cody McCormick a pass in front of the net. McCormick scored on Toronto Marlies goaltender Drew MacIntyre to give the Amerks a 1-0 lead.
Throughout the game, Tropp did many of the same things – a la playing physical and drawing a penalty - as last year when he earned his first NHL call. He didn't look apprehensive about getting back into the mix early.
“There's going to be a little bit of an adjustment period getting back here,” he said. “But each period I felt a little bit better and by the third period I was playing pretty close to how I normally would.”
The 23-year-old came into to 2012-13 with expectations of playing every night in the NHL. After scoring 22 points in 27 AHL games last season, he was brought to Buffalo where the former third-round pick played 34 games – mostly as a third and fourth line role player.
But on opening night – after scoring two goals against Toronto – he suffered the devastating knee injury. His chance at bringing effort, toughness and some secondary scoring to the 2013 Sabres appeared to have gone out the window.
Now there's a chance he could be back in The Show before season's end.
“It was kind of like the first game when you get to training camp,” Tropp said sitting at his locker with a bag of ice on his knee. “You feel good but at the same time you have to get the kinks out.”
Tropp skated with two familiar faces in Cody McCormick and Matt Ellis – both of which he played with last season in Buffalo. He also spent his time rehabbing in Western New York in order to stay close with the club.
“It definitely helps rather than just jumping in somewhere you aren't really familiar with,” he said.
How long he will stay in Rochester is unclear, especially with the upcoming trade deadline. It's possible Amerks fans could see him in all of the Amerks' 10 remaining games and into the playoffs. It's also possible he could be back in Buffalo in a week. He'd probably love a long playoff run in Rochester to remind the Sabres' brass that he should be a part of their 2013-14 plans.
The Amerks lost 4-1. Two of the goals were empty-netters, but Rochester was outshot 40-15. In the last two games, they've been outshot 78 to 29 – albeit by two of the AHL's best teams. The biggest struggles have been defensive zone breakouts and the feeble dump-and-chase. Chadd Cassidy noted that flat-footed defenseman were passing to wingers who were too often standing still when they received the puck. When the wingers did get the puck, they dumped the puck in and were unable to retain possession behind the net or along the walls, often getting beat on battles. It might suit this team to carry the puck in and take low percentage shots that lead to O-zone faceoffs.
Tim Connolly played for the Marlies. It was the second time he's played in Rochester. It would be an understatement to say he looked unenthusiastic about his 23rd AHL game. He only has 12 points in 23 AHL games.
Evan Rankin returned to the lineup after missing several weeks with a leg injury. He didn't have much of an impact Friday, but he will play an important role as the Amerks head toward the playoffs.
David Leggio stopped 36 of 38. The game-winning goal was a little bizarre because it bounced off a linesman's skate right into the waiting hands of Toronto winger Brad Ross, who ripped it past Leggio. In the month of March, Leggio has a .946 save percentage. Looking over his numbers (34 wins, .924 save %) and considering the Amerks' spot in the standings, you could argue Leggio is the MVP of the entire American Hockey League.
One more note. Big credit goes to the Amerks PR and gameday staff for eliminating the gag at the end of the Kiss Cam that features two of the opponents' players. It was pointed out to the Amerks by several fans that mocking players by suggesting they are gay is a contradiction to the team's recent You Can Play ad. They put an end to it. Good for them.
Here's the ad that plays during games.
Patrick Burke, who heads up the You Can Play movement checked in on Twitter saying he'd like to see the gag removed in all stadiums. Let's do that.