The Rochester Americans team that played in October and November was a much different team than the one that played down the stretch. The team that played early in the season had a sort of swagger to them, some excitement and even appeared to be having fun. The team did not lose their fourth game of the season until November 28th, the 20th game of the season. At some point after that game the swagger slowly faded away.
After talking to a number of different players over the past week and watching practice on Tuesday morning I get the feeling that the swagger and confidence that has been talked about and also disappeared is back. It’s pretty simple, you’re happy when you’re winning and you’re miserable when you’re losing.
I’ve watched a lot of practices in the mornings and the team that practiced on Tuesday morning looked to be a different team than the one I watched a few weeks ago. The execution of drills, the passes, the shots and even the saves by Alexander Salak and Tyler Plante looked better.
It may have also helped that the coaches were more interactive and also giving a lot more specific directions.
Speaking of goalies, Tyler Plante has said that he is not starting on Thursday which would leave the job to Alexander Salak. That’s not much of a surprise to me based on quotes last week by Benoit Groulx (look for them on Wednesday). Groulx said that he’ll officially announce the starter on Wednesday.
The confidence of the team seemed to have fade from December on when injuries and call ups were really starting to have an impact on just about every game. The lineup was changing, the goalies were changing, the rotating lines were also changing often during games. It was a lot of change. The players also never knew whether they were coming or going. There is a mental aspect to hockey as well and when you’re mentally prepared one day for the minor league system and then have to switch modes to play in the NHL there is an adjustment to make and vice versa.
When the playoffs start on Thursday the team can go back to how they planned the systems at the start of the season with a specific roster and this time they will not have to worry about any players being called up. Injuries and call ups are expected and common in minor league sports, playing through all of that is often challenging but this Amerks team found a way.
Actions will speak for themselves when the Amerks take the ice on Thursday against the Abbotsford Heat. There’s no way that Jody Gage and Ted Nolan assembled this roster just so they could make the playoffs, they assembled this team knowing they could be capable of winning a Calder Cup. It has not been smooth, but I’m ready for the bumpy ride to continue until June.
Look for a more in depth “Round 1” preview on Wednesday.