As the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres start putting a bow on the 2021-22 season, their younger siblings in the 585, the Rochester Americans, are fighting to the end to secure a playoff spot. This is the first year since 2019 that the American Hockey League will be putting on a proper Calder Cup playoffs, and there’s no doubt the Amerks want to be a part of it.
Though I’ve been keeping an eye on the Amerks from afar this season, I finally made it back to Blue Cross Arena for Saturday’s early evening tilt against the Cleveland Monsters. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I got out to Rochester, but I’m glad to get the opportunity to catch guys like JJ Peterka and Jack Quinn in person.
Lukas Rousek, the Sabres’ 160th overall pick in 2019, scored his first AHL goal on Saturday evening, a beauty of a shot from the left of Monsters’ netminder Cam Johnson. Rousek’s first may have come late in the season, but he’s only appeared in 17 games this season after undergoing ACL surgery. He wasn’t activated until just last month, so it’s nice to see him finally notch that special first.
Brandon Biro had a great look on a breakaway later in the opening period. He picked up the puck and outskated a chasing Cleveland player to pocket his 40th point of the season (11th goal) on the power play.
The Amerks had a good start, but things fell apart quickly. Trey Fix-Wolansky scored in the dying seconds of the first period to put the Monsters on the board; Tyler Sikura & Roman Ahcan added goals only 27 seconds apart early in the middle frame.
Although Rochester tried to battle back, they couldn’t find the back of the net. Peterka had a few good chances but missed. Michael Mersch missed a wide open net and was then called on a mysterious goaltender interference penalty, which head coach Seth Appert amounted to a make-up call so the officials could avoid giving Rochester a 5-on-3.
Missed opportunities, blown chances. A puck-over-the-glass incident that didn’t get called, followed shortly thereafter by a missed boarding call. A bunch of little things - some in their control, some not - came together and hurt the Amerks in the end. Once Cleveland snagged the empty-netter, that pretty much spelt the end of it for Rochester.
Despite blowing a 2-0 lead and clearly not getting the desired result, several Amerks players and coach Appert spoke after the game about focusing on what they can control. Rochester no longer fully controls its own destiny; they’ll need some help from other teams in order to make the playoffs, but the goal is control what they can control.
For the Amerks, that starts with Sunday’s rematch against the Monsters in Cleveland at 3 pm. Biro and Jimmy Schuldt both said they’re not the type to hop on their phone immediately after a game to see how the standings are faring; Biro said he wished everyone could just turn their phones off for a week and focus on their games instead.
Control what you can control.
Capitalize on your chances.
Play the kind of game you want to play.
After Sunday’s matinee, the Amerks will have one game left in the regular season as they host the first-place Utica Comets on Friday.