December 30, 2007

"Gage"ing Rochester's Future

This is Jody Gage. Gage played just 68 career games in the National Hockey League, yet he too is a legend of hockey. He is known as Mr. Amerk in Rochester of the American Hockey League, where he set numerous offensive and longevity records over a magnificent career that spanned 17 years.

Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 1979, he joined the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings that fall. He would spend most of the next six seasons there, winning a Calder Cup in 1981. He would find himself moving to a different part of New York state after signing with the NHL's Buffalo Sabres. However Gage would spend most of his time in Rochester with the Americans, the long time farm team of the Sabres.

Gage is the most recognizable figure in the storied history of the AHL’s Rochester Americans. He holds all Rochester scoring and games played records. He was just the third AHL player to score 500 goals and 1000 career points and 5th to reach 1000 games played. He finished his playing career in 1996 ranked third in league history with 504 goals and 1048 points. He is the AHL's all time leader with 51 career Calder Cup playoff goals.

Gage was part of the inaugural class of the AHL's Hall of Fame. Fittingly, he would stay with the Amerks in retirement, serving as their successful manager.

Now I don't follow the AHL very much, so it was a surprise to me when I read Kevin Oklobzija's piece in The Hockey News about the Sabres and Americans going separate ways at the end of this season. The Amerks have been Buffalo's farm team for 29 years, in what must be one of the longest serving affiliations in AHL history.

The Amerks are facing financial difficulties, and they must be pretty dire. The Sabres are owned by Tom Golisano, who made his billions offering payroll services around the world. Golisano is from Rochester, and his companies head offices are there as well. Golisano grew up with fond memories of the Amerks in his youth, which only helped to cement a life long love affair with hockey that saw him buy the Buffalo Sabres.

But he is said to be displeased with the Amerks financial picture and that is why he's turning his Sabres' backs on the Americans. I'm sure a billionaire like Golisano is smart enough to separate sentimentality from reality, which is why he just doesn't buy out the Amerks and stop the bleeding. The financial future of the team must be bleak.

I don't know AHL history very well, but I do know it would be a very sad day if the Rochester Americans, a AHL team since 1956, ever folded. The Americans are hopeful an affiliation can be arranged with the NHL's Florida Panthers that will stave off any thoughts of suspending operations at some point in the future.

Here's hoping something can be worked out in one of hockey's great towns.

By the way, if you're looking to learn more about hockey in Rochester, author Blaise M. Lamphier penned the book Hockey in Rochester: The Americans' Tradition in 2004.

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