The Rochester Americans are on the road this weekend against Springfield, Providence and Hartford for three games in less than 48 hours. This is their first of five sets of three games in three days this season, up from three last year. In those nine games last season the team finished with a 4-2-2-1 record.
With comedians, concerts, and monster truck events taking over Blue Cross Arena the team held practice this week at Bill Gray’s IcePlex in the suburb of Henrietta just outside of Rochester. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a four rink facility with one larger rink that has a seating capacity of 2,500. It’s also one of the coldest rinks in the region, especially mornings when no one else is using the facility.
Chris Taylor has been skating at that rink off and on for almost 20 years and shared the reality of it when asked about the cold temperatures, “sometimes its tough days here but it’s a good reminder that we’re in the minors and it gets guys to play better and get out of the minors.”
The team only had one game last weekend, a 3-2 overtime win against Syracuse. They had Saturday off and were back on the ice early Sunday morning for practice that started with a passing drill and went right into scrimmages of 4 on 4 and 3 on 3. Taylor shared his thoughts on that approach saying, “it’s a good skate actually. It’s harder than doing some drills to get our structure and sometimes we don’t practice that enough. Last year we lost a lot of points in overtime so I want to make sure we continue to strive and get that extra point.” The team played tied a league record with 29 games in overtime, four of those overtime games were during three in three weekends.
“We did a great job last year with our three in three’s,” Taylor said. “I expect no difference this weekend. I think our guys and leaders have showed the way and how to play these games.”
With points in 11 out of the last 12 games, a current three game winning streak and only one regulation loss in five road games the team has high expectations going into the weekend. Rasmus Asplund said, “we are taking it one game at a time and we want three of three wins, that’s what we’re going for.”
Talking about the long weekend Asplund said, “we used to play like that in juniors back home in Sweden. You just have to find your way to get the energy going on Sunday afternoon when it’s the third game in a few days. You’re just trying to find your own energy on that third day.”
Leading up to these weekends the conversations often go straight to that Sunday game but starting the weekend off right is just as important to finishing it. The Amerks have won five of their last six games outscoring opponents 21-11, and have outscored opponents 11-4 in the third period of those games. One area that has struggled is the power play. The team hasn’t scored a power play goal in the last five games after starting the season with at least one in the first seven of nine games. The penalty kill has only had one goal scored against in the last four games.
Andrew MacWilliam has been a big part of that penalty kill. “It’s a complete game,” he said. “You can’t have all the skill guys and just build off that. You need that good balance, guys that are willing to be on the penalty kill.” Asked about being a defensive defenseman which means rarely being asked to speak to the media he said, “It’s kind of a dying breed it seems but that’s what has brought me success so I can’t really change that up now.”
Will Borgen falls into the same category of MacWilliam as a true defenseman that plays a simple game of keeping the puck out of his zone.
Depth has played a part of every Amerks game this season and will be relied on again with Victor Olofsson and Kyle Criscuolo likely out of the lineup with injuries. Criscuolo hasn’t played since 10/26 when he blocked a shot and didn’t return to the game. Olofsson left the game after the second period on 11/7. Neither player has played since. Criscuolo had returned to practicing with the team but had a set back this week. Olofsson has been skating with trainers. Both are considered day to day.
Chris Taylor knows they have players to step in but also said, “it’s a big deal, they’re important guys for our team. Unfortunate with those two guys right now but we have two other guys that can step in and do a great job.”
Tonight the Amerks play against Springfield for the first game, a team that has lost four straight and is 7-4-0-2 on the season. Saturday night is against Providence with a record of 5-7-2-0 and is currently sitting in last place in the Atlantic Division. Sunday will be against Hartford with a record of 6-8-1-2. Hartford also plays on Saturday night so the 3pm game on Sunday isn’t going to be an easy day for them either.
The team is confident they can win all three games if they continue stick with the game plan they’ve been following all season. One period at a time, one game at a time. They’ve relied on everybody contributing and two goalies that that put confidence into the team in front of them and also earned respect for the team in front of them.
With a 6-3-0 record, Scott Wedgewood enters the weekend tied for second among AHL goaltenders with six wins. Adam Wilcox is right behind him with a 4-0-1 record in six games played. The sixth game was a loss that went on Wedgewoods record when Wilcox relieved him after the first period. Based on the pattern of playing time it’ll be Wedgewood playing on Friday and Sunday.
“Some guys can thrive on those three in three’s if you’re a smart player,” Taylor said. The key is moving the puck, don’t turn it over, shorter shifts and catch the other teams by surprise. “I kind of liked it myself when i played. You just tried to outsmart the other team. You know it’s the last game before another week so you put everything out there and it’s fun especially on the road.”
“They need to bring it every game and every shift. You cant take a shift off because you’re going to look pretty silly out there especially in the third game and we don’t want to look silly. No one does. It’s a long bus ride home and we want to make sure we’re a happy bus.”
Andrew MacWilliam knows what’s ahead this weekend and said, “it’s been an inside joke about career Sunday players, guys that make careers on Sundays.”
Outplay, outlast, outwit your opponents in the third game in 48 hours and you’ll stand out above everyone else.
For a more in depth look on what has made this Amerks team tick click through to this article below…