It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Rochester Americans lately. Goaltending prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has been polarizing throughout a 4-game stretch where the Buffalo Sabres’ top farm club picked up 2 wins and 2 losses.
Their most recent game ended in a 5-3 loss to the AHL-leading Utica Comets, but the Amerks are already preparing for a rematch with the New Jersey Devils’ AHL club this Wednesday.
After practice, I caught up with head coach Seth Appert, defenseman Peter Tischke and captain Michael Mersch about this recent stretch of games and more.
Head Coach Seth Appert
Given the last few turbulent games, I checked in on Appert’s thoughts on Buffalo’s goaltending prospect, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, affectionately nicknamed UPL, perhaps more for brevity’s sake, but nevertheless. THe was straightforward and did not mince words in saying that UPL has been inconsistent. However, Appert, who himself was a goalie during his playing days, was quick to point out that during the Nov. 17th 3-2 loss to Utica, UPL only saw 12 shots which he acknowledged made it difficult for the big Finn to find any sort of rhythm. With that, Appert expressed his desire to keep UPL playing more, noting “At the end of his first 2 years, he should probably be 90 games into his pro career, and he was only about 40 because of the injury 2 years ago and COVID last year.”
Yet despite Luukkonen’s recent struggles, Appert remains high on the young netminder telling me, “We have a ton of belief in UPL, that hasn’t wavered a bit, but we do need more consistency from him.”
Appert was then asked about defensemen Peter Tischke who was recently called up from the Sabres’ East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) partner the Cincinnati Cyclones, and has since dressed for 4 games in the red, white and blue.
Appert complimented the aggressive blueliner, saying “His game has been growing since the start of the season.” He would later tell me, “He’s a great teammate; his work ethic is off the charts high.”
He spoke about how the deep Rochester D-corps and a difficult game against Belleville ultimately led to Tischke being sent down to Cincy which, the coach made clear, was not a demotion. Appert was candid and sensible when describing his communication with Tischke. “We sent him to Cincinnati, and when we did that, we told him, ‘This is short term. We’re bringing you back, this isn’t a reassignment.’”
Upon arriving in Cincinnati, Tischke dressed for 5 games with the Cyclones and, Appert added, played well, logging over 20 minutes a night which helped with his confidence. Appert said that upon his return to Rochester, Tischke’s game “looked a lot better.”
At this point, Appert was asked about his relationship with the Cinncinati Cyclones coaching staff and management. He had high praise for Cyclones head coach Jason Payne calling him “fantastic” and “a good person [who] cares about his players.” Appert said that he and Payne talk or text multiple times per week, regarding “who’s playing well, who might be in line for the next call ups, or situations like we’re talking about (Tischke) that guys aren’t getting enough minutes here.”
Appert was asked about prospect Peyton Krebs, who scored his first Amerks’ goal this past Saturday. He replied confidently, “His best game was at Utica. He was dynamic in that game on Saturday night. He was all over the puck, he made plays, he made tons of plays.”
PEYTON KREBS SCORES HIS FIRST GOAL AS AN AMERK! pic.twitter.com/lnlSePLbGu— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) November 21, 2021
While Appert sees Krebs as a center, he put the young forward on the wing and liked what he saw for the time being. In particular, Appert noted that he liked the chemistry between centre Mark Jankowksi and Krebs which started during the Lehigh Valley game. According to Appert, that chemistry carried into Rochester’s last game, where the NHL veteran, Jankowski, and Krebs paired up for 10 chances for and only 2 against.
“I’m a big believer in line chemistry.” Appert said.
D Peter Tischke
Next up, I spoke to defensemen Peter Tischke, who you may remember played very well during the Sabres Prospect games in September. The undrafted prospect was originally signed to a 2-way AHL-ECHL deal this past August after making his pro debut with the Colorado Eagles and Utah Grizzlies during the 2019 season. As advertised, Tischke has played a hard nose, stay at home style game, blocking shots and playing physical.
Building off of the previous comments from Coach Appert, Tischke was asked about his time in Cincinnati to which he aptly noted that his 5 game stretch as a Cyclone helped him get back into “game shape and game mentality.”
I asked Tischke what the biggest difference was between playing in the ECHL versus the AHL to which he responded, “I think the main difference is structure and speed. I think in the AHL there’s a lot more structure, guys are always where they are supposed to be, and then the ECHL, it’s like, kind of run and gun hockey, so it’s almost harder to play down there just because you don’t know where your guys are always going to be.”
Thus far in Rochester, Tischke has rotated defensive partners, most recently pairing with Oskari Laaksonen and then Mitch Elliot. However, Tischke said that blueline chemistry is not a problem for him, “At the end of the day we play together, we rotate in practice.”
Finally, since Tischke grew up in the Chicago suburb of Hindsale IL, he was redundantly asked if he was a Blackhawks fan growing up, to which he chuckled, “Yup, Blackhawks fan.”
LW Michael Mersch
The big team captain was asked about what he said to his teammates after a disastrous second period against the Phantoms this past week. A humble Mersch started by highlighting the Amerks leadership group, specifically mentioning that Sean Malone had a role in righting the ship. Mersch then explained his succinct message to his teammates: “Just go out there, re-focus, get the next goal, and take it from there.”
On the back of Coach Appert’s earlier comments on team chemistry, I asked about playing on a line with Sabres call-up, Brett Murray, who Mersch has found some good chemistry with as of late. “I think it helps me, and I’m sure it helps him the same, that we both play the same way, we like to play below the tops of the circles. We encourage each other just to play straight north games, get on the forecheck, turn pucks over and that’s kind of how our offense comes five on five.”
Here’s hoping the Amerks can build off of the noted chemistry developing between players like Mersch/Murray and Jankowski/Krebs. Rochester continues to develop an intriguing blend of players, whether it’s highly skilled prospects like Krebs, Peterka and Quinn, or gritty defensive stalwarts like Tischke. Appert and Don Granato certainly have options moving forward and that may become a bigger story line as the Sabres’ season progresses.