The headline is one that should play out until June if everything goes according to plan. That’s a long ways away in but it’s where every hockey team wants to be. The Amerks earned five of six points last week which has set this weekend up for a battle with the Syracuse Crunch for the North Division title. The Crunch currently sit three points of the Amerks in the standings making the games Friday and Saturday more important than ever.
These two teams have played each other nine times already with the road team winning six of the nine games. Rochester currently leads the season series with a 5-2-1-1 record through nine games. After they face off in Rochester tonight they play two more games in Syracuse over the next two Saturdays. Of the five games played in Rochester only two have been won by the Amerks and those were in early October and early November.
“We talk about it every weekend but this is the biggest one,” Chris Taylor said Friday morning. “Coming down to the nitty gritty here, two top teams playing it out, and two rival teams. I know our guys are up for it and we practiced hard all week. We’re excited as coaches and the players are all excited.”
Taylor Leier learned early on about the Rochester vs Syracuse rivalry when he arrived here after a trade. He talked about this weekend saying, “I think it’s good preparation for the playoffs. Obviously there’s kind of a hatred between the two teams. I think it’s exciting for both teams to fight for that top spot because we don’t like each other.”
On paper, these games could come down to goaltending. Rochester has two veteran goalies available to play in Scott Wedgewood and Adam Wilcox. Syracuse has two rookie goalies with Corbin Boes and Atte Tolvanen. Boes has never played an American League game and Tolvanen has only played three. The most recent game for Tolvanen was a 1-0 shutout win over Belleville on Wednesday.
Last Saturday the Amerks scored goals in the third period to comeback and win on the road in Binghamton. Scott Wedgewood earned the win thanks to the team in front of him.
Wedgewood talked about his recent starts this week after practice. Talking about Saturday he said, “It wasn’t the prettiest game on my part but that’s when you need a team to play and win for you sometimes and those guys did that and it’s a good check for the week.”
The week prior he had started games in Toronto and home vs Lehigh Valley before being pulled.
“There’s nothing to look back on or dwell on,” Scott Wedgewood said after practice this week talking about the situation. “Throughout the whole year you’re going to stumble at some point and I’d rather it be last week than in two weeks.”
“I went over it all and a couple of things to clean up and work that much harder to get better and those things fall off your back you move forward.”
Adam Wilcox stepped in at Toronto and finished the game with seven saves while the team worked towards the third comeback win. Against Lehigh Valley he had 13 saves in the overtime loss.
“Obviously having Coxy come in and do a great job that’s a well rounded team and a playoff team,” Wedgewood said. “You can spin it and say it was a great week for the guys to learn who they are and never give up. We’ll take the positives out of it and move forward.”
Zach Redmond will be back in the lineup after missing the last six games. He has been skating on his own since last playing in Charlotte and just returned to team practice on Thursday. If the playoffs had already started he would’ve been ready to play but the team played it safe getting his “lower body” injury back to 100%.
Casey Fitzgerald played in his first professional game last Saturday in Binghamton and had a two assists. Fitzgerald finished his senior season at Boston College and joined the Amerks last week. He’s also signed through next season as well. He’s familiar with the coaching staff and many of the players from previous Sabres development camps so this wasn’t a brand new environment for him.
“I thought he played really well. Nothing more exciting than his dad being the general manager of that team and him getting to play his first pro game there,” Chris Taylor said when asked about Fitzgerald. “I really liked his composure and how he skates. I liked his overall body position, he was really good always on the right side of the pucks.”
Taylor talked about the familiarity for Fitzgerald and said, “It’s not like he’s totally new but you don’t know what he’s going to be like in a real game and especially in a regular season game in the American League which is a lot different but I thought he handled himself really well.”
Will Borgen is back after a playing in his first four NHL games. Asked how those went he said, “They were tough games, not the way I wanted them to go. I felt fine out there there, was a lot of fun, and really cool moment for me and my family to play in the NHL.”
Borgen keeps his game simple. Going into this weekends games he said, “Just keep playing the same way I’ve played all year. Simple, get the puck to the forwards, let them do the work up there, and then I’m just going to play my game by being physical in the dzone and not let the other team score.”
Borgen had a little after practice training from Tyler Randell on Thursday when it comes to dropping the gloves.
— Let's Go Amerks (@LetsGoAmerks) April 4, 2019
Tage Thompson had a successful first two games with the Rochester Americans and is expected to continue with the success.
Chris Taylor talked about that after practice on Monday saying, “We want him to make sure that he’s going to be relied on in key situations for us. We want him to be a big time player for us, not just take up time, and be happy to be here. We want him to put the work in and be a big part of our team.”
In two games with the Amerks he has four points (3G+1A). One game winning goal, one insurance empty net goal, and one first goal of the game. That’s an immediate impact in two wins.
“It definitely feels good to contribute and help out with the teams success,” Thompson said after practice. “I think it’s pretty easy when you come down and the team is already having success. There’s confidence, positive energy on the bench, and in the room.”
It was also the first time he’s experienced back to back wins since December 11th and 13th when the Sabres won back to back games on the California road trip.
Asked about not experiencing back to back wins in months and the different atmosphere he said, “It’s obviously tough when you go through stretches like that and you never want that to happen. You come down here and it’s a 180. It feels real positive in the locker room and it’s fun to be a part of. They’ve been working hard all season to get to where they’re at right now and I’m just trying to do my part to come in and help the team continue their success.”
Through two games his line mates were CJ Smith and Kevin Porter, a trio that will likely stay together through the weekend.
Kevin Porter was asked about what he’s seen in the mindset of Thompson and he said, “Sometimes you get guys down that sulk a little bit but I think right from day one he’s been ready to go. I think he wants to win, these are important games, he knows that, and he wants to be a part of it.”
A road trip and full week of practice is something that came at the right time for Thompson to tighten bonds going into the playoffs and last two weeks of the season.
He’s also been one of the last players on the ice every day after practice. Asked about that Thompson said,Â “I’ve always been a rink rat. I love being on the ice. Once practice ends a lot of guys work on different things you use in a game. I’m one of the guys that likes to work on extra stuff after and that you have time to fool around and work on fun silly skills when no one is watching. Just the love of the game. A lot of guys like to stay on after, hang around, and work on things you wouldn’t usually be able to in a game or practice.”
“It’s easy to have individual success when your team is having success as well,” Thompson said. “Its nice to come down here and finally find the back of the net and get your confidence back.”
He said he isn’t familiar with the rivalry and intensity of the games against Syracuse but has taken a peak to see where they are in the standings and knows they won’t be easy games.
Andrew Oglevie and Danny O’Regan are the two players on the current injured list. O’Regan practiced on Thursday but Chris Taylor said he’s day to day. Oglevie is likely out for the season.
Dalton Smith and Tyler Randell are expected to play.
Nathan Paetsch, Brandon Hickey, and Arvin Atwal are likely defensive scratches.