The Amerks are back in action tonight and on the road to take on the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are slowly pulling away from the pack in the North Division, much like the Amerks did earlier in the season. In five games this season the Amerks are 3-1-1 against the Bulldogs and have outscored them 18-14. In their most recent contest the Bulldogs defeated the Amerks in Hamilton by the score of 4-1. The difference in this game is that the Amerks will have Alexander Salak in net.
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At the midway point of the season the North Division race is close with only nine points separating second and fifth place with the Lake Erie Monsters quickly rising in the standings. As we’ve seen through the first 40 games of the season a lot of things can quickly change which will make the remaining 40 even more exciting with so much on the line.
And that leads us to my mid season thoughts on the Rochester Americans. There are a number of reasons to be optimistic during the second half of the season, unlike the past month and a half.
The number one reason to be optimistic is the level of talent and experience on the roster. The goal from the end of last season was to make the playoffs this year which is something that should happen. If times start getting rough again I’m confident that players like Chris Taylor, Rory Fitzpatrick, Graham Mink, Jeff Taffe, and Jamie Johnson will stand up and lead the locker room into the final stretch.
The goaltending duo of Alexander Salak and Tyler Plante is a pair I would be confident leading me into the playoffs, assuming they’re healthy. Salak can make the big save when the time is needed and a healthy Tyler Plante is hungry to prove himself.
There are still reasons to be concerned on the defensive side but I think when they see something like the playoffs within reach they’ll really step it up. Having Rory Fitzpatrick back on the ice leading the defense into the hunt will be a big asset. He has been there before and he’ll be able to relate to the young guys and work them through it.
At the start of the season the players were all excited and pumped up about returning the Amerks to their great years. They talked about how much it meant to wear the uniform and play for the City of Rochester. That mood seemed to take a back seat once they hit a rough patch but they’re slowing getting that back. Just about every team slumps at some point and doing so in the second quarter of the season was probably the best time to do it.
Unfortunately there are still some things that have plagued the Amerks from day one that they’ll need to figure out. I was recently listening to some post game recordings from the first month of the season and some things talked about back then are still issues to this day. Three of those things have been odd man rushes by the opposition, the defensive unit needing to get more involved, and beating the forecheckers one on one. Three pretty important parts to the game of hockey.
There’s a number of reasons to be optimistic that with everything this team has been through that they will pull it all together in the second half and make a strong push into the playoffs. The biggest reason to be optimistic is that even when this team was not playing full strength they were able to compete with the best in the league. They were able to play competitive games against the Hershey Bears, Hamilton Bulldogs, and Abbotsford Heat.
It will be a fun ride into the spring!