Friday night, the Rochester Americans hosted the Philadelphia Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, for an Eastern Conference showdown. The affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres managed to slug out a 5-4 shootout victory in what was a rebound win from a tough loss to the Utica Comets earlier in the week.
The Phantoms came out strong and put the Americans on the back skate to start the game. Veteran netminder, Michael Houser got a rare start, giving prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkon the night off. Houser was solid in net, weathering the early Phantoms’ storm, before the Amerks leveled the ice.
A smooth looking Rochester power play led to a vintage Brett Murray goal when defenseman Oskari Laaksonen launched a hard shot from the point. Murray, while setting a perfect screen, managed to chop in the rebound for a 1-0 Amerks lead.
In the middle of the first frame, Amerks’ winger Linus Weissbach blew through the neutral zone to collect a lose puck before turning on the after burners, cutting in on a self-made breakaway and deking, back hand to forehand, for a highlight reel goal.
WEISSBACH ON THE BREAKAWAY MAKIN IT LOOK EASY! pic.twitter.com/8IeB8DbwnM— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) November 20, 2021
Three minutes later, the Phantoms returned fire when they were able to keep the puck in the Amerks’ zone for a long stretch of time before Lehigh Valley winger Garrett Wilson buried a quick pass from behind the Rochester net.
The first period ended with a 2-1 Amerks lead.
Once again the Phantoms came out flying, just as they did in the first period. The only difference was that they never stopped. The Phantoms collected back-to-back goals from centremen Morgan Frost and Connor Bunnaman. Frost scored on a sniper shot from the left circle, while Bunnaman slammed home a rebound, all within a 13-second span.
Rochester was lucky to keep the game to a 3-2 deficit as the Phantoms outshot the Amerks 21-4 in the period. Needless to say, Houser shouldn’t be paying for dinner after this one as he was brilliant in triaging the numerous Rochester gaffs. Head Coach Seth Appert would later sum up the second period as “disgusting.”
It was Coach Appert who was able to right the ship as he showed a masterful touch in shaking up his lines. Peyton Krebs was moved to the wing with Weisbach; Quinn was moved to center between big wingers Brett Murray and Michael Mersch, and Peterka slid onto a wing beside center Sean Malone.
The line shuffling eventually paid off when Brett Murray scored his second of the game. Newly anointed center, Jack Quin, showed some incredible vision finding a trailing Murray cutting to the net. The big Nittany Lion did the rest when he slammed home his own rebound to tie the game at 3’s.
THERE IT IS— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) November 20, 2021
TIE GAME!!! pic.twitter.com/CAM2h2Vtmd
With only a few minutes to play, Amerks defenseman Ethan Prow, who had a strong game, fired a point shot that missed the net but ricocheted right to winger J.J. Peterka. The German playmaker banked the puck off Phantoms goaltender Felix Sandtrom to put the Amerks back on top.
JJ PETERKA BOUNCES ONE OFF THE GOALIE AND PUTS US IN THE LEAD! pic.twitter.com/tdv2NI23pW— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) November 20, 2021
However, with just under 2 minutes to go, the Phantoms pulled their goaltender, and tied it up when forward Gerry Mayhew found a lose puck during a net-front scramble to send this one to OT.
The Amerks controlled the puck for almost a full 3 minutes, managing 2 shots on net, until Sean Malone was called for boarding. The Amerks’ penalty killers got to work and managed to stave off the Phantoms’ power play... and the rest of overtime, as the game went to a shootout.
First up for Rochester was Jack Quinn, who made a gorgeous move that sent Sandstrom sprawling. Quinn then gingerly tapped the puck into an empty net to draw first blood.
You’re all asking for Jack Quinn’s shootout goal…— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) November 20, 2021
THIS IS JUST SILLY pic.twitter.com/ynFmFVJ2bt
For his part, the Amerks’ goalkeeper, Houser, made two nice saves on the Phantoms’ shooters, to include a great glove save on Morgan Frost. Fittingly, J.J. Peterka capped a solid game with a smooth back hand to forehand deke, causing Sandstrom to open up the garage, before Peterka parked the puck in the net to seal the shootout win for the Amerks.
PETERKA WITH THE GAME WINNER IN THE SHOOTOUT! pic.twitter.com/otdr1qdR5z— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) November 20, 2021
After the win, I joined the post game media conference to get some insight from the Rochester Head Coach and a few key Amerks players on their gutsy win.
Head Coach Seth Appert
Regarding his team’s struggles throughout the game, Coach Appert felt that the team was too focused on scoring, rather then “playing the game the right way.” Appert admitted that he didn’t say much between the second and third period, other then trying to get the team to focus on winning “puck battles.”
The coach spoke very highly of Brett Murray noting that he has worked hard in establishing his identity. In a very encouraging and insightful comment, the coach said that “Donnie (Granato) and I have talked a lot about this, about how those little mini-recalls, and maybe it’s a game or two, but maybe it’s just time up there, can really bolster your belief as a young prospect and I think it’s done that with Brett.”
The coach was also happy with the continued development of J.J. Peterka whose game he said was ”growing weekly.”
Coach Appert addressed his shortening of the defensive bench with Laaksonen and Peter Tischke not getting much playing time in the 3rd. The coach acknowledged that Josh Teves, Ethan Prow, Mattias Samuelsson and Casey Fitzgerald received the majority of the playing time in the 3rd period when he replied, “For most of the 3rd period, we did shorten the bench, I mean that’s where the game was at.”
Appert continued, “And we went to 3 lines and 4 defensemen, primarily, for most of the third period, which is not ideal, not something that you always want to have to do, but considering the circumstances and the way the second period went tonight, we felt it was necessary tonight”
Appert noted that Brett Murray was a huge catalyst in the comeback win and that he liked Jack Quinn at center and Peyton Krebs playing on the wing during the third period.
Furthermore, Coach Appert singled out some “massive blocked shots” by the defense corps. In particular “Samuelsson’s backside one timer blocked shot was a pretty special block in overtime.”
LW Brett Murray
When asked about the rough 2nd period, Murray replied, “That’s gonna happen in the game of hockey... it’s a long season, 76 games, you can’t play perfect in every single period.”
Responding to questions about the line juggling, specifically with Murray ending up on Jack Quinn’s wing, Murray stated, “I think we’re pretty interchangeable when it comes to line combinations. We got a lot of skilled players.”
He continued, “I don't even think we could put a name on a first line.”
“So whether I’m with (Michael) Mersch and (Jack) Quinn, or (Sean) Malone and (Ryan) MacInnis, I think we’ll have success either way.”
Regarding the overall line juggling, he summed it up saying, “I think it was just to create a little bit of spark today coming out of that second period.”
LW Linus Weissbach
Weissbach addressed the Amerks’ poor play in the second period and the plan to turn it around which he said was to keep it simple and to “get on their D pretty hard.”
In response to questions about how he felt working alongside Peyton Krebs, Weissbach was complimentary. “I think that was the first time we got matched together so far...easy guy to play with, I think he’s strong on the puck, likes to make plays, good skater....I’m a good skater too, so I like to play with guys who can skate. I think that it worked well for the shifts we had together...and it was good to see us have some success down low.”
RW J.J. Peterka
Regarding his shootout move that was the game winner, Peterka admitted, “Well, I knew what I was going to do before that.”
Asked what needed to change after the second period, Peterka said, “I think just the work ethic. We got outworked, I think, in the first and the second period...we completely changed that, put more pucks to the net, and that’s why we won the game, I think.”
I asked Peterka if his 3rd period goal was, in fact, a set play with Prow missing the net on purpose to get him the puck off of the backboards. The amicable Peterka laughed and told me “No.” He joked, “We can say it was a set play, but no, actually.”
I responded in turn, and told him I would write it up as a set play to which he joked, “perfect.”
So with that, what a play by Prow to Peterka on the game-tying goal.
And what a win for the Amerks.