A Relationship On The Rocks

Last week ESPN Rochester’s Mike Danger broke the news that the Buffalo Sabres were exploring options to relocate the Amerks to a new arena. What arena(s), specifically, have yet to be determined and Mike Danger has not divulged his source of the information or the arena(s) contacted. Here’s what we’ve heard through the rumor mill:

  • Pegula Ice Arena at Penn State was considered. Hershey might have taken offense to the idea of another team playing so close to them.
  • Albany is moving to Binghamton for 2017-18 and leaving an AHL-class arena tenantless. Just a few more hours down the thruway, Albany is a viable option.
  • Hamilton used to host an AHL team (the Bulldogs) until they were purchased by the Montreal Canadiens and moved to St. Johns. While the arena currently hosts a juniors team, they might be looking for an AHL team to call Hamilton home.

In addition to these rumors, Mike Danger, in a heated discussion with Rochester city official Norm Jones, said “I’d hate to see them end up in Utica.”—which may or may not have been a slip. Utica has been rumored to be in danger of losing their team in a sale/move to the west coast which somewhat validates Utica as an option.

The reasons behind a potential move have played out in the public eye. The Sabres organization has continually referred to the Blue Cross Arena as sub-standard and unsuitable for NHL (and AHL) hockey. They’ve also complained about the lease agreement. Whether you think the Blue Cross Arena needs updates or a complete replacement, there is no denying that there are older arenas that offer fewer amenities hosting other AHL teams. Winning teams. The Sabres famously refused to host pre-season NHL hockey at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester—instead electing to play in Pegula Ice Arena at Penn State University. They’ve made their opinion of the facility clear.

There’s more to the story than meets the eye, however. Rather than hold an AHL preseason game somewhere in the Rochester area, the Sabres elected to hold the Amerks preseason game at the Sabres-owned Harbor Center in downtown Buffalo. In the past they’ve held preseason games at Rochester area arenas including Bill Gray’s Ice Plex and RIT’s Gene Polisseni Center. Why shun Rochester during preseason? In my opinion this was to send a message to Rochester fans—we have the power to take your hockey. Now, for the third season in a row, the Amerks are facing an uncertain future in Rochester with lease negotiations and rumors about moving the team swirling.

Nearly 24 hours after the dust settled on ESPN Rochester’s interview with Norm Jones, the Sabres are sending another message by loaning Amerks Captain Cal O’Reilly to tonight’s opponent the Toronto Marlies. The Amerks are not going to make the playoffs. Loans are expected. Loaning a player to your opponent BEFORE you play them isn’t only about giving a player a chance on a team with playoff hopes. It’s to send a message to the fans—we don’t care about you or your investment in tickets to see our team play. I don’t have a problem with O’Reilly being loaned. Nearly a month ago I mentioned that O’Reilly looked like he had given up.

Now there’s the revelation that O’Reilly wanted out of Rochester. He wanted to be traded. Since nothing came together trade-wise, Tim Murray is apparently trying to do right by O’Reilly. That’s fine…and most fans are ok with losing him. The problem is timing. In loaning O’Reilly immediately before the match Tim Murray has indicated to each and every fan that he doesn’t care about the fan base.

Amerks fans are now left to endure the tail end of a disappointing season, with their captain on loan to one of their closest rivals…for free. The tank is on in Rochester, but there’s no first round draft pick at the end of this road. Just a disappointed fan base that’s received the intended message loud and clear.

…and about that early ticket renewal deadline of April 3rd…

Chris Schiffner is a New Yorker turned Rochestarian who loves the Amerks, is passionate about the success and development of Downtown Rochester, and celebrates all things local. He maintains a personal website at Schiffner.com and you can follow his personal twitter feed at @ChrisSchiffner.
 

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