ROCHESTER — It was a life-changing decision. In September, Phil Varone impressed the Buffalo Sabres, so the club offered an AHL contract following his training camp tryout. But Varone was also strongly considering attending the University of New Brunswick.
“It was 50-50,” Varone said Friday inside the Blue Cross War Memorial following the Rochester Amercans’ 5-1 win over the Syracuse Crunch.
Varone, a scoring star with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters, went home and discussed his future with his parents.
“I talked to my dad about it,” the 21-year-old said. “He said, ‘You know what? I think you should do it. This opportunity might not come up again.’ So I took a chance.”
Seven months later, Varone’s chance has paid off handsomely. The center’s 52 points led an Amerks team featuring several top prospects and high-priced veterans. His 41 assists tied for the AHL rookie lead.
The Sabres inked Varone, who went unsigned after San Jose selected him 147th overall in 2009, to a two-way contract in March.
“That was my goal after I got an AHL contract to kind of work to that,” Varone said.
Without Varone, it’s likely the Amerks, who start their first-round Western Conference semifinal series tonight against the Marlies in Toronto, would’ve missed the playoffs.
The prospect credits Amerks coach Ron Rolston and his tenacity for his success.
“He gave me an opportunity, and I kind of ran with it,” Varone said. “Just hard work, I guess, having good patience, a good attitude. Guys who work hard, it usually works out for them.”
Rolston believes Varone’s work ethic compliments his talents.
“He works so hard, you knew that he was going to be where he was because he scored a lot of points in junior hockey,” Rolston said. “ … He works on his game a lot. He’s just built over the course of the year, and his confidence came along with it. Now he’s the player he is for us.”