Jason Cipolla, pictured during his playing days with the Rochester Americans, totaled 96 points in 71 games with the Stingrays from 1995-1998 and was a Kelly Cup champion with the team in 1997.
Tonight was the first of three straight games against the Bears. Were the players looking forward to facing another first-place team (Rochester is in 1st place in the AHL’s North Division)? Most definitely. We’ve been looking ahead to this game for a little bit. It’s always exciting; it’s always a classic AHL game, Hershey versus Rochester. It’s a great barn, a great atmosphere, and we were looking forward to coming down. It’s too bad we didn’t make a game of it.
It seems like there’s a good working relationship with the Panthers’ affiliates, similar to Washington’s with Hershey and South Carolina. Would you agree with that?
Absolutely. The Panthers and Rochester affiliation is going very well, and also Rochester’s and the Florida Everblades. It’s just the same. We have a very close relationship with them, calling players up and down, and it’s worked out great over the past few years. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue that.
Just a few years back the Panthers were without a primary affiliate, and usually ranked near the bottom in the prospect department. To what do you attribute the turn around?
Just the fact of them being partners here in Rochester, and Florida taking over from there as the sole supplier of players to the team. I think that’s what you need. They’ve surrounded them with good veterans that we have now, so now we have guys like (Michal) Repik and (Kenndal) McArdle playing with solid veteran players. They’re going to improve, they’re going to get better quicker, which is the goal.
The Amerks hosted Abbottsford last night in a matchup featuring two former Rays in the roles of assistant coach. Did you get a chance to talk with Bedsy (Jared Bednar) after the game?
You know what, I didn’t. It was great to see him; I did see him briefly when we were out in Abbottsford. But it’s always good to see him. Great memories of playing with Jared and winning the Kelly Cup. It was amazing, and I believe Jared scored the winning goal in the last game, I believe. I’ve seen him a bunch of times since then, but it was good.
You spent most of that season (1996-97) in the AHL with St. John’s. Were you looking forward to coming back for the playoffs with the Stingrays?
I had been following it closely…and I knew that they were in first place overall. When I got sent down I wasn’t upset at all; I was extremely excited to get a few games in before the playoffs. And I had already played there so I knew it wouldn’t take me long to get comfortable. But I very much looking forward to it. And it was fun because we were in first, so we knew we had a chance to win the cup. It was tough losing Eddy Courtenay two games before the start of the playoffs, but it was a good team and a great bunch of guys. It was fun to win.
Do you still keep in touch with any of your former Stingrays teammates?
Just when I see them around the circuits. I see Jason Fitzsimmons all the time, and we talk on the phone sometimes about players. So I’ve seen him quite a bit. I visited for the ten-year reunion a while back, so I saw a bunch of the guys there. I saw my old linemate, David Seitz, so that was fun.
Anything you miss about the Lowcountry?
I tell my wife about it all the time now. It was one of the most enjoyable times in my career by far. Such nice people and nice support for the team. When we went down for the reunion I had my wife with me, and she finally got to see what I was talking about. It was great.
Lastly, is there anything you’d like to say to Stingrays fans? Keep supporting the team. I know the guys love it. You guys will always be in my heart, and I’ll always be thinking about it. And I still do to this day.