Nov 6, 2023
By Andrew Mossbrooks | @Mossbrooks48
The Rochester Americans began November with immediate adversity, seeing seven different players enter their lineup from the week prior. Injuries and call-ups plagued the roster, yet the red, white, and blue managed three of a possible six points, going 1-1-1-0 over a three-game week.
After a lopsided loss on home ice to Syracuse on Wednesday, Rochester earned a standings point Friday against Utica, then survived an offensive onslaught by the Crunch Saturday to pull out with a 5-4 shootout win in Syracuse.
Three Amerks over a five-day span were recalled to the Buffalo Sabres. It began with Brandon Biro, who made his impact felt Wednesday night in Philadelphia, scoring his first two NHL goals against the Flyers in a 5-2 Buffalo win.
Lukas Rousek followed his fellow forward to the NHL Friday morning, then rookie defenseman Ryan Johnson joined the duo in Toronto Saturday evening, posting his first career point on an assist to Jeff Skinner’s second-period goal.
Sabres prospect Matt Savoie’s time as an Amerk has come to an end, at least for the foreseeable future. After a two-week conditioning stint, the Sabres have recalled the 19-year-old earlier this morning and will give their 2022 first-round draft pick a chance to be a mainstay in the National Hockey League.
“Matt’s been really, really good,” said Amerks head coach Seth Appert. “This is a big jump for him. He’s coming off an injury and now got thrown into playing 18-19 minutes a night with some of our top players. He’s performed well and created offense every night. He’s played hard and played the right way.”
Savoie skated in six games with Rochester over the past two weeks, scoring two goals and three assists for five points.
“I think I’ve done a good job just taking it day by day,” said Savoie. “That’s what Kevyn (Adams) and I talked about when I first got injured. We talked about focusing on the process and getting healthy and learning as much as you can wherever you are. I think I’ve done a good job with that.”
“Everyone in the locker room takes a lot of pride in playing for the Amerks. This is one of the closest teams and group of guys I’ve ever seen. We continue to get better together. Everyone in that room has a collective goal to not only get to that next level but have success while we’re here. I think we’ve done a good job balancing pushing each other on the ice and off the ice and staying dedicated to the system to come out on the ice and produce wins.”
November was a difficult start for Appert and his Amerks. Several key players were absent throughout the week due to injuries, including captain Michael Mersch, alternate captain Brett Murray, plus forwards Linus Weissbach, Viktor Neuchev, and Aleksandr Kisakov. As a result, the Amerks recalled forward Damien Giroux and Riley Fiddler-Schultz from ECHL-Jacksonville.
“I like these moments as a coach,” said Appert. “These are galvanizing moments. These are moments where your back is against the wall. Your lineup’s not what it was. We’ve got defensemen playing forward. It’s kind of all hands-on-deck and these are moments that can really bring a team together. You need a gutsy kind of win, but we have the men in that locker room to do this.”
Amerks forwards Jiri Kulich and Isak Rosen continued to thrive over the course of the team’s three-game week that opened November. Rosen collected a goal and two assists, while Kulich scored in each game and posted four points (3+1), plus the game-winning shootout goal Saturday in Syracuse, shelving a backhand shot past Crunch goaltender Hugo Alnefelt.
Kulich has goals in four straight games after a power-play bullet in the third period against Syracuse Saturday. It is the longest goal streak of his regular season career, though the Kadan, Czechia, native scored in six straight playoff games to open the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs. He is tied with Springfield’s Adam Gaudette for the league lead in goals (9). Kulich and Rosen each have points in eight of their 10 games played to start the season.
The pair of European forwards have combined for 14 goals, 11 assists, and 25 points.
Veteran goaltender Dustin Tokarski made his season debut Friday against Utica, stopping 16 pucks and helping the Amerks earn a standings point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Comets. The game marked Tokarski’s 400th appearance in the AHL, something only 17 other goaltenders in league history can lay claim to.
The 34-year-old followed that with a solid showing against one of his many former teams Saturday, facing 46 shots, plus two shooters in the shootout against Syracuse. The Amerks were outshot 46-23. In the third period alone, Syracuse put up 18 shots to Rochester’s six.
Tokarksi kept his team in the game, denying multiple breakaways and limiting rebound opportunities. He then robbed Gage Concalves and Felix Robert in the shootout for Rochester to secure the extra standings point.
Tokarski’s 42-save performance was the most saves made by the Saskatchewan native since Nov. 24, 2018.
After opening the season with a struggling penalty kill, Rochester has now killed off six straight man-down situations, including a double-minor early into Saturday’s game. After neutralizing the Crunch’s last power-play Wednesday night, the Amerks surrendered just one power-play opportunity to the Comets on Friday, before shutting the Crunch down in Syracuse through four opportunities Saturday. Friday and Saturday’s games mark the first time this season Rochester has prevented a power-play goal in consecutive contests.
While the Amerks penalty kill remains low in rankings, the signs of a total team defensive effort and emphasis on shot blocking will hopefully turn the team’s fortunes around on that side of special teams. The power-play has remained in good shape, sitting fifth in the AHL at 26.5%.
The Americans will face Utica for the third and fourth of 12 times this week in a traditional home-and-home format, starting by hosting the Comets for Hockey Fights Cancer on Friday, Nov. 10, before traveling to Adirondack Bank Center for a Saturday rematch in Utica.