Rochester Americans in the Hunt Despite Key Call-Ups by Sabres

Though they’ve felt the absences of a number of key players due to call-ups this season, the Rochester Americans are still contenders and find themselves in the thick of the American Hockey League (AHL)’s playoff race. With far less firepower at their disposal, they have found new life with all-around team production and effort this season and have seen numerous players take on bigger roles. But will it be enough to carry the team to its second-consecutive postseason?

Sabres Recalls Leave Big Void

Rochester’s chances in the new season were immediately dealt a big blow before it even began, as the Buffalo Sabres announced that both Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka would begin the season in the NHL.

The 2020 draftees were the story of the Americans’ 2021-22 campaign. Peterka recorded 68 points in 70 games, which was good enough for a share of eighth in the AHL. Even more impressive was Quinn, however, who put up 61 points in just 45 games and became the first Amerk since Mika Noronen in 1999-00 to win the Dudley Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s Rookie of the Year. The duo paced the team and as a result, the Americans secured a playoff spot and entered as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, advancing to the North Division Final before being swept by the Laval Rocket, 3-0.

Jack Quinn Buffalo Sabres
Jack Quinn (pictured here with the Sabres) was a force for the 2021-22 Americans and became the AHL’s Rookie of the Year (Ben Green/NHLI via Getty Images)

It was nevertheless a very strong season for the Americans, but their success in a way became their undoing. When a prospect plays well, they get called up to the big leagues – it’s simply the nature of all minor league sports. The Americans have been feeling that particularly this season, as in addition to losing their top-two point producers from the year prior, the list was further added to when Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was brought up in November because of yet another goaltender injury for the Sabres.

It’s left the team without a majority of its core and suddenly looking far less formidable. For them to stay competitive, other players would have to come through in a big way – and that’s exactly what’s happened.

Well-Rounded Production Keeping Americans Relevant

Whereas last season Quinn and Peterka’s efforts largely carried the Americans, numerous players have stepped up and helped fill the void this time around. All-around contributions have kept the ball rolling this season for head coach Seth Appert’s squad, and the players that have led the charge might be surprising.

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After making his NHL debut last year in a one-off appearance for the Sabres, Brandon Biro has made it evident that he intends on returning one day. The undrafted winger has stepped up to become the new center piece of the Amerks’ offense and leads the team with 23 points in 19 games. Brett Murray, who had a 19-game stint with the Sabres last season and scored his first NHL goal, is enjoying another fine season with 19 points through 24 games.

Fellow youngsters Linus Weissbach and Lukas Rousek have been a great complement and sit at 19 and 18 points respectively while Isak Rosen (a first-round pick of the Sabres in 2021) has put up 15 points in 25 games to begin his rookie year.

Brandon Biro Rochester Americans
Brandon Biro’s breakout performance has kept the Americans in the race (Micheline Veluvolu / Rochester Americans).

But the Americans’ newfound depth goes further than just their younger talents, and two veteran role players have continued to make a mark. Buffalo native Sean Malone, who returned to Rochester last year after spending a season in the Nashville Predators system, is putting together another strong campaign and has recorded 15 points through 16 games. Second-year captain Michael Mersch, coming off a season in which he scored a career-best 26 goals and 54 points, has missed 10 contests to injury but has still managed to put up 10 points in 15 appearances.

Additionally, Ethan Prow has continued to cement himself as the Americans’ top defenseman after a 49-point season last year that also saw him make his NHL debut with the Sabres after six years in the minor leagues. Though he hasn’t scored at quite the same pace, his 12 points are good enough for sixth on the team.

In a year in which it looked as if the Americans’ offense might have been rendered kaput, it’s been kept alive by a remarkable all-around effort from the entire roster. Teams that get that kind of production always seem to enjoy the most success, and that bodes very well for Rochester right now.

Houser & Subban Sharing Goaltending Duties

Though Luukonen’s strong start to the season gave the Americans a major boost, his absence since mid-November left the team with a major question mark. But, as with the rest of the roster, those who remained have welcomed the challenge.

Malcolm Subban, and everyone’s favorite success story Michael Houser, have formed an effective tandem in goal and have largely succeeded in the endeavor. Houser has shouldered a majority of the weight with nine appearances, posting a 3-4-0 record with a 3.17 goals-against average (GAA) and .895 save percentage (SV%). Subban has made seven appearances but has gone 5-2-0 with 2.82 GAA and .910 SV% and recently posted the team’s first shutout of the season on Dec. 17.

It’s difficult to tell if Luukkonen will remain with the Sabres this time or be sent back to Rochester once again, but Houser and Subban deserve credit for holding down the fort as well as they have. If the two can continue to perform well, the Americans’ chances will only get stronger.

The Americans Are Contenders

Despite what appeared to be a considerable lack of talent on paper, the Amerks have surprised just about everyone this season. As of Dec. 19, they sit second in the North Division and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference with a record of 14-9-1 and 30 points.

Related: 3 Sabres Prospects to Watch at the 2023 World Juniors

To say the least, it’s been a remarkable run for the Sabres’ top affiliate and it would be difficult to not admire what the Americans have done, whether one is invested in them or not. As the first half of the season comes to an end, good things appear to be on the horizon if the team can continue its roll, including a potential Coach of the Year nomination for Seth Appert.

It’s been 26 years since the Amerks last brought home the Calder Cup. Could this season’s Cinderella run end up with the team once again on top? The chances are better than they may appear.

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