Contrary to the last time we met, the Amerks have lost a mere two games of their last nine – a shootout loss against Lake Erie on April 13, and a regulation loss against Toronto on April 19. How many times was Andrey Makarov NOT in net for the Amerks? Twice. Once when Mark Guggenberger played to that 10-round shootout loss to LEM, and once when Connor Knapp played to a 4-3 loss against Toronto on April 19. That Andrey Makarov kid? He’s pretty good at tending to his goal.
"It's not a silly little moment, it's not the storm before the calm." (John Mayer, Slow Dancing In A Burning Room)
With all those wins, and a little bit of help, the Amerks secured their spot as the 7-seed in the Western Conference on April 16, when they defeated the Utica Comets 5-1 on Utica’s ice. The good news is the Amerks will NOT be facing the Toronto Marlies in the first round for the third consecutive season. The mixed news is that they will be facing the Chicago Wolves, whom they split a two-game series with this season. The Amerks are 7-6-0-0 against the Wolves all-time.
Wolves to Watch
The Wolves are no joke. They finished in second place in the Western Conference and were the Midwest division champions, with a 45-21-5-5 record. This includes ending their season on a four-game winning streak, thanks in part to superstar goaltender Jake Allen. Allen has not lost a game in regulation since March 30, and he lead the league in game played (52), minutes played (3,138:21), and shutouts (7). Forward Ty Rattie tied Grand Rapids’ Teemu Pulkkinen for 1st in the AHL in rookie scoring, with 31 goals (+17=48pts). He is the first Wolves player to have a 30-goal season since Mark Mancari in 2011-12.
Speaking of Mark Mancari, there has been some kerfuffle on the Twitters about his return to Rochester. Mancari was part of a multiplayer deal at trade deadline that took Mancari off to play for the San Antonio Rampage. There are some other familiar faces on this squad, however, including Doug Janik, who last played for the Amerks in 2005-6. In 71 games, he posted 24 points (5+19) and 161 PIM. This season, he’s played 24 games between the Wolves and the Rampage, notching 12 points (2+10) and 16 PIM. Eric Selleck and Evan Oberg skated for the Amerks in the 2010-11 season. In 67 games, Selleck posted 16 points (5+11) and 214 PIM, while Oberg had 2 points (1+1) in 5 games played.
Amerks to Watch
Besides Makarov, rookie center Tim Schaller has looked great on the ice. He has certainly come into himself over the course of the season, notching 7 points (5+2) in his last six games, including a third period hat trick against Toronto on April 5 that propelled the Amerks on to victory. Similarly, Nick Deslauriers (whose game-worn sweater is now tucked away in my closet) is a presence on the ice. Obtained in the trade that sent Brayden McNabb to the LA Kings, Deslauriers is a physical, clean player who isn’t afraid to shoot the puck. After looking slightly out of place at the beginning of his time here, he has played a prominent role in the last several games.
Unfortunately, there is a small grey cloud that is hanging over all of this playoff excitement. Reports have come out of Finland, per Kevin Oklobzija with the Democrat & Chronicle, either a news story or podcast (or both?) that rookie forward Joel Armia is unhappy and homesick in Rochester. In 54 games, Armia has 27 points (7+20). He has struggled all season with finding a consistent style of play after breaking a bone in his wrist during training camp. Additionally, he missed three games last week because of a virus making its way through the team. Coach Chadd Cassidy has said that he plans to use Armia in a top-6 role, likely playing RW to Kevin Porter’s C and Deslauriers’ RW. Armia has denied any and all rumors, stating that he knows that he needs to work hard and get things done. He has also stated that Finland media has a history of being unkind to him.
The first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs start in Rochester on Friday, April 25. Wait, you said. The Amerks are the seven-seed, you say. That is accurate. The AHL has adopted a best of 5 first round and has made some accommodations for the event that teams have to play each other that are not in close proximity. This applies to Rochester and Chicago, for sure. Instead of a 2-2-1 format, the two squads will have a 2-3 format. The higher seeded team has the option to start at home or on the road, and has opted for a start in Rochester.
The schedule looks like this: Game 1: Friday, April 25 in Rochester, 7:05pm Game 2: Saturday, April 26 in Rochester, 7:05pm Game 3: Thursday, May 1 @ Chicago, 8:05pm Game 4: Friday, May 2 @ Chicago, 8:35pm (if necessary) Game 5: Sunday, May 4 @ Chicago, 4pm (if necessary) You can follow me on Twitter for any and all updates on the Amerks and the Wolves throughout the series and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, say hi at the two home games. This Amerks team looks much, MUCH more solid than playoff-bound teams the last several seasons, and I’m excited to see what they can do.