The Amerks opened the 2017/2018 regular season with a 3-1 win over the Syracuse Crunch and after the game Justin Bailey said, “We wanted to show the city of Rochester it’s going to be a change of pace around here.” Changing the pace meant winning hockey games and making the playoffs again.
“It’s exciting for me,” Nick Baptiste said this week. “It’s exciting for the City of Rochester as well. We haven’t had a situation where we’ve been even close to getting into the playoffs the last two seasons I’ve been here.”
Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste and Linus Ullmark are in their third seasons as Rochester Americans and the only three players that have played a full three seasons here. Chris Taylor was an assistant coach in their 2015/2016 rookie seasons and is familiar with what they’re capable of and how important the playoffs are.
All three players have a common goal right now – a long playoff run.
“From the beginning of the season just the vibes that were going around the locker room and from the history of the guys we brought in,” Bailey said after the first practice of the playoffs. “I didn’t know how but I knew from the start there was something different, a different feel this year. I think that translated to how hot this team started and how good of a season we had.”
Nick Baptiste could sense a different feel at the start of the season as well, “You could tell just based off our coaching staff, the leadership group, the players they went and brought in and then the young guys that we were able to pick-up and have come in.”
Linus Ullmark talked about going to the playoffs saying, “It’s an awesome experience, haven’t played a playoff game in a really long time. Last time I was in this sort of situation was back in Sweden, this is definitely a lot more fun.”
“I wasn’t really happy about it because it’s six months at home,” Ullmark said about ending previous seasons early. “You don’t do anything for two months and then four months of off season to take care of. But now you can take it all the way into June and all of a sudden you have a lot less summer and a cup at home so for me it’s going to be a tremendous opportunity.”
Bailey talked about going into the playoffs saying, “It’s not a feeling I’ve had since juniors. The caliber of hockey, the game, the pace, the fans and it’s obviously all different during the post season and something I’m really looking forward to.”
“It’s an exciting time and these guys know that. They didn’t make the playoffs last year and it’s exciting,” Chris Taylor said this week. “I know Linus is excited, Bailey is excited, Baptiste is excited. Everyone has been in the community – so they know. They’ve reached out to people at different times. Now it’s touching everyone, and everyone is getting excited for the playoffs.”
“Coming back to Rochester was such a great thing for me. Starting in Rochester helped me mold my game,” Nick Baptiste said after the first playoff practice this week. “When you come down here and you have guys like we do in our room, leaders and coaches. You want to win, you want to pull for the guy besides you because at the end of the day that’s what’s most important. We have so many guys playing for contracts for next year. Guys understand how important it is to have a long and deep playoff run.”
Justin Bailey talked about what’s on the line in the post season saying, “Teams like guys who win, teams like guys that are pro’s and can get you to the post season. Any time you’re on a winning team it definitely helps your resume while helping the team.”
Chris Taylor was an assistant coach during their rookie seasons and knows what a playoff run can do to help a future NHL career. “It’s so much fun and so rewarding,” Taylor said. “A lot of people look at players at the end of the year for next year. Those are the types of players that need to have a really good playoff to help our team and standout and do some special things.”
Linus Ullmark will have a job with the Buffalo Sabres next season. That’s the last thing on his mind right now though, he wants to win. He wants to enjoy a playoff run. He wants a Calder Cup.
Baptiste and Bailey are both finishing up the third year of their entry level contracts and still have a lot to prove. Baptiste is returning from playing 33 games in the NHL. Bailey found himself in back to back games against Toronto in the middle of February and has been a dominant player since. He finished the season with four goals in the last four games of the season.
All three players have the chance to increase their value for the future based on how they play in the post season. Play as a team and individual success will follow is something that the coaching staff has stressed all season and carries into the playoffs. Care about each other and win hockey games. That all seems incredibly cliché but that’s what has turned the culture around in Rochester this season and all three players quickly jumped on board.
“You can be on a team with great players and a great scheme but not a tight knit group,” Baptiste said about this group. “I have a team of best buddies that I would go to war with every night. It’s exciting when you are part of a group where it’s so fun to come back to the dressing room. You go have dinner with the boys and you want everyone there, it’s not like you’re in a clique of three or four guys. We do things as a group and it translates on the ice.”
“I was in Buffalo at the end of the season and that environment wasn’t a playoff environment. Obviously, a team that wasn’t making the playoffs. Within a couple days I’m down here and a team that’s the complete opposite end of the spectrum where we feel really good about ourselves moving forward and we think that we’re in a good situation as a team and as a group to make noise in the playoffs.”
One thing that doesn’t faze Ullmark is the topic of playoff intensity and thinking about preparing for games any different than usual. He said, “My job is to stop pucks and I’ve been doing that the whole season, I haven’t started trying to do something else and that’s what I’m going to keep doing. That’s my job and that’s my job only.”
“Same as always,” Ullmark said when asked about any different emotions coming to the rink this week. “It’s a lot of fun going to the rink with these guys in here. It doesn’t change a thing. It’s been a tremendous year, been a lot of fun and it’s going to be even more fun now.”
Syracuse was one of the best teams in the league after their first 16 games of the season and went right past Rochester in the standings. They aren’t going to be a fun team to play against and will be on a chase of their own to return to the Calder Cup finals.
“We like where we are but they’re not going to just roll over. They’re a great team over there in Syracuse and they’re going to play real hard,” Baptiste said. “We have to play at our best to get out of the round.”
Justin Bailey talked about Syracuse and said, “You grow to not like teams you have played often, and it’ll definitely be a fast-paced game.”