In the first-ever outdoor game for either franchise, captain Matt Ellis scored the game-winning goal in the sixth round of the shootout as the Rochester Americans froze the Lake Erie Monsters with a historic 5-4 victory under the stars Friday night in front of 11,015 fans at Frontier Field in the kickoff to the Greater Area Rochester Honda Dealers Frozen Frontier presented by Labatt. The win marks three consecutive victories for the Amerks over Lake Erie and vaults Rochester to first place in the AHL’s North Division with a record of 12-10-2-2
Ellis and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc both finished with a goal and an assist to lead the Amerks, while Colton Gillies and Phil Varone also scored goals to round out the scoring. Joel Armia added two assists, and Matt Hackett earned his seventh win of the season with 26 saves.
Matt Hunwick scored two goals for Lake Erie, while Mark Olver finished with a goal and two assists and Andrew Agozzino tallied three assists. Garrett Meurs also scored in the loss for the Monsters and Calvin Pickard turned aside 25 shots.
Despite 18 degree temperatures for the opening face-off, the division rivals wasted no time getting acquainted with each other. Just 2:05 after the puck dropped to start the game, Frederick Roy dropped the gloves with Mitchell Heard. Both players land blows in a spirited bout before officials stepped in and escorted the pair to the penalty box.
The Amerks struck early on in the first period, when Gauthier-Leduc swung behind the Lake Erie net and fed a pass to Ellis at the face-off dot. Ellis took a hard body-check, but got his shot off in time to beat Pickard, providing the Amerks with a 1-0 lead just 3:36 into the opening period.
It didn’t take long for Lake Erie to respond, though. Following a Matt MacKenzie penalty, Agozzino won a draw clean in the Amerk zone and Olver fired a hard slap-shot into the net to tie the score 1-1. Only minutes later with the Monsters on another man-advantage, Hunwick received a cross-ice pass from Agozzino and scored Lake Erie’s second goal on a wrist shot.
Lake Erie scored its third goal midway through the second period with both teams playing four-on-four hockey, as Meurs picked up a loose puck along the boards and wired a high shot that surprised Hackett and went into the net.
The Amerks began their ferocious comeback with 5:03 left in the second period, when Roy curled around the left circle and floated a back-hand shot on Pickard. The puck slipped through the netminder and sat free for Gauthier-Leduc, who tapped it into the gaping net.
Rochester tied the score 3-3 only 2:12 later when Nick Crawford took a low shot from the side-boards that was tipped into the net through Pickard’s legs by Varone.
The comeback was completed by Gillies, who took a back-door pass from Ellis and put the puck top shelf for a 4-3 Amerks lead just 3:07 into the final period.
Following an Amerks penalty with 54.9 seconds left in regulation, the Monsters pulled Pickard for the six-on-four advantage. After a tenuous final minute, Lake Erie broke through as Hunwick scored the tying goal with under a second remaining in regulation to send the game into extra time.
Five minutes of overtime hockey could not decide a winner, sending the game to a shootout. With the Amerks down 2-0 after three rounds, successful attempts by Mike Zigomanis and Johan Larsson extended the game to a sixth round. After Hackett denied Agozzino on Lake Erie’s sixth attempt, Ellis strode in and slipped the puck under Pickard for the winning shootout goal.
Rochester travels east down the I-90 thruway on Saturday, Dec. 14 to take on the defending Eastern Conference champion Syracuse Crunch at the War Memorial at Oncenter. The 7:00 p.m. contest will be the third of eight meetings between the longtime intrastate rivals.