To discuss the 2008/2009 season in detail with anyone who has followed the Amerks this season knows it’s like beating a dead horse, it’s time to look forward to next season. That’s what the players and coaches did in talking with the media during Tuesday afternoons locker cleanout. It’s not just about looking forward to next season, but also heading into the season expecting to make the playoffs and be contenders.
Some players left Rochester earlier today, some in the coming days, and others are sticking around for a short time. Riley Emmerson and Stefan Meyer are on a 40 hour road trip back to Saskatchewan, Janis Sprukts is heading back to Latvia, and Rory Fitzpatrick just had a short trip back to Irondequoit. Jordan Henry is on his way back to Calgary where he’ll be training with some players from the Flames as well as take in some playoff games.
Besides looking forward to a long summer of working out and getting stronger, a lot of the guys were just excited to see family and friends that they have not seen since September.
One thing that everyone can agree on is that the team needs offense and the ability to score goals.
“I don’t think that the team had the offensive firepower to compete this season, and if they’re talking of veteran forwards that is helpful and they also mentioned bringing in a veteran defenseman which would be very helpful,” Rory Fitzpatrick said.
Actions will speak louder than words. The only thing we (Amerks fans) can do is be optimistic that the Panthers and Amerks management will have the ability to build this team after July 1st the way that is needed.
The game that seemed to be the turning point of the season was December 7th when Mike Brodeur played his first game as an Amerk and shutout the Albany River Rats. At that point the team had a 3-18-0-2 record, if anyone would have said this team would go on to win 29 games you probably would have received a funny look.
It’s easy to try and blame the goal tending to start the season, or at the time some even blamed the coaching, Rory Fitzpatrick disagreed saying, “Everyone was learning at the beginning of the year, I don’t think you can blame just players, just coaches, just management, it was a combined effort, you don’t go 3-23 (was actually 3-18-0-2) because of one thing. I think it’s just a combination of everything.”
Some had been wondering if based on injuries Fitzpatrick would be hanging up the skates and retiring, but he said he’ll be back next season.
Riley Emmerson was excited with the season he had and said that he would love to come back to play for the Amerks next season. The role of tough guy on a team can be played by a lot of players in the world of hockey. The one thing that Emmerson has in his favor was his ability to play. He said that he was expecting to be released after he fought Mirasty twice during his first game and then all of a sudden he was getting 12 minutes of ice time and sweating more than he ever had during a game.
The defensive core of Rory Fitzpatrick, Keaton Ellerby, Mike Caruso, Jason Garrison, and Jordan Henry is the one part of that team that everyone is most confident in. Chances are we’ll also see Matt Duffy and Peter Aston back in the lineup as well. I also wouldn’t be surprised to Drew Paris get invited to training camp.
Jordan Henry will be returning to Calgary and training with a lot of the Calgary Flames players when their playoff run is over.
Michael Caruso played his first pro year with the Amerks and admitted having some issues adjusting. The length of the season compared to juniors was only 12 games, but a big difference and something that was never really talked about prior to playing in the AHL. The mental issues he said explains why he would play well for a couple of weeks and then plumet for a week or two. The positive thing he said he’ll take away from this season is the confidence in himself that he proved he could play at this level. “It’s an official job, it’s your responsibility to be ready every single game,” he said.
Shawn Matthias said he plans to go home, regroup, be with friends, and start thinking about next year. Matthias knew the pressure was on him and said he expects even more next year, “just because of the year I had. I had a good meeting (exit meeting with coaches and management) today, put my head in prospective, the thing is to regroup and not let it happen again.”
Matthias has heard the fans in the stands. He knows more was expected of him. “The guy who’s been toughest on me this year is me, it’s something I have to fix, stop being that hard on myself,” Shawn said. “You know what, the fans are little upset with what they saw and they have every right to. They’re paying good money to come to these games and want to see the best out of everybody. I know the best out of me would have brought fans out of their seats and they would’ve been happy with what they saw and they wouldn’t have been less satisfied.”
Matthias is excited to take the advice given to him during his meeting. Matthias said, “they’re not wrong, everyone in the meeting tells you how it is. They’re not wrong, they’ve been around the game for a long time.”
Benoit Groulx said he can’t wait to be back home but at the same time he’s thinking about the coming year. Three things he says the team needs is more offensive players, a better home record, and players capable of making the right play at the right time. “When you need a big stop a guy that’s going to do it, when you need a goal a guys going to score the big goal, and when you need a big defensive play a guy that is going to do it. These three things were a big factor,” Groulx added on.
“Everyone learned a lot, not only the players and coaches but also the ownership and management. It was the first year of the affiliation, we’re all on the same page, focused towards next season, we know what we got to do to be successful next season. It starts with having a good off ice season and then come back here next season ready to start on the right foot,” said Groulx. He went on to say, “I had to adjust as a coach and the players had to adjust to me also. It was the same coach in place for eight years so it was a big change. I learned a lot from the players here and the league.” He said a positive heading into next season is, “Knowing the players and the league better and knowing what they’re going to face more than anything else.”
When asked about the need for veterans Groulx responded with, “It’s not my department, we all agree that the offense this year was our weakness. When you’re involved in 55 games decided by only 1 or 2 goals and you win only I guess 25 of them that’s not enough.”
Benoit Groulx continued to say, “We faced a lot of adversity because of our injury and goaltending at first. We had to put some guys on the wrong chair. When you’re sitting Michal Repik on the first line after 10 days it’s because something is missing. We had guys injured and didn’t have anyone else to replace them and you have to put a young guy there. Same thing happened with Shawn Matthias when Janis Sprukts went down. He was taking more ice time and but he wasn’t ready. It’s tough when you put a player on the wrong chair and ask him to perform, he’s not in the best condition to perform. Your only putting more pressure on him and he’s not put in a situation to succeed. I think we all understand the need to get more veteran in place next year to fill that role.”
Michael Caruso summed up what’s needed during the off season when he said, “As long as we all do our part over the summer and work hard and make sure we show up ready to go theres no reason we cant be in a playoff spot for the whole year.”