The Amerks had a week of practice before going on the road this weekend to play the Penguins and Phantoms. They’re coming off of last weekend where they split a home and home with Toronto where Toronto won in Rochester and Rochester won in Toronto.
On the road this weekend they’ll likely be without Sean Malone in the lineup who has been on the day to day list recovering from a nagging injury.
It’s expected that they’ll be joined by Taylor Leier who was just acquired in the trade in exchange for Justin Bailey. [ Details of that trade and more on Leier ]
I could have turned all of the quotes below into individual stories but a busy week got in the way. It’s a buffet of questions and quotes that gets straight to the point with answers from Alex Nylander, Chris Taylor, Jack Dougherty, CJ Smith, Kevin Porter, and Amerks GM Randy Sexton.
On his first half the season, “I think I’ve had a good half of the season, obviously started off really good, slowed down a little bit, but now I’m back on track and trying to get back up to the best I can be.”
Asked if he’s starting to see consistent play payoff, “It feels good that it’s paid off. I could start shooting more and I know I am a goal scorer. I just need to get to those opportunities to start shooting for and look for the pass as much as I have been. I’m always trying to get better at getting to those areas where you can score goals. I’m happy with the way it’s been and I know it can get even better.”
Asked how he judges success for himself, “Working hard every game. How much I work, how much I’m skating, making plays and stuff like that. When I work hard the points will come. You can have a really good game with zero points as long as you’re creating chances. The points will come in the next game if you keep doing that.”
First half of the season as a team, “I think we can just get even better from now. We’ve had a pretty good start to the season half way. We just need to keep going. We know the way we can play, be consistent, and play like that every night.
Asked about looking forward to a road trip where they’ve played better, “I don’t think of that as much. We’re trying to make corrections where we can whether it’s at home or on the road. We’d like to play better at home, we’re not very happy with ourselves and the results or lack of results at home. We just have to be better. For us this weekend it’s about going on the road and we have to be prepared against two quality teams in the other division.”
On having CJ back, “He helped energize our room the way he came out and started playing.”
On wanting players shooting more, “We want a shot mentality. Everybody thinks sometimes that it’s selfish when a guy shoots but it’s unselfish because the next guy and the second guy gets the opportunity. When teams have good defensive posture it’s tough to score from the outside, you have to shoot get to the inside. It’s very unselfish to start shooting the puck and that’s what we need more guys to do.”
On the first half of the season, “I’ve really liked it so far. We’re improving game by game. I’ve gone over Fridays game a couple of times and if we score on a couple of our chances it’s a different game. In Saturdays game we gave up a couple of scoring chances and it could’ve been the other way. It flip flopped for both teams at home. I think we’ve played some really good hockey, there’s a couple of games I’d like to have back but we’re moving forward and guys are maturing.”
What are you looking to improve on in the second half, “Improve on results at home. Results when we have opportunity, are we bearing down on them? Looking at our structure I want to improve our structure so we don’t have to go over it as much in practice later on in the year. Keep moving forward and every day we’re coming to work, it’s not here to just show up. We’re getting to that but haven’t gotten to that point with everybody yet.”
The team still trying to find an identity, “We always are and I think every team is until they get to the playoffs. It doesn’t matter how you start, it matters how you finish and where you end up.”
Last Saturday there was an incident in the third period where Michael Carcone of the Toronto Marlies had skated into a group of Amerks players and hit Jack Dougherty with a high stick. Refs gave him a five minute major and game misconduct. A little surprised that the league didn’t follow up as well.
Asked about that Taylor said, “We looked over it afterwards. There’s been way more things that have happened, that’s just part of it. It’s one of those things that because he had a bloody nose the day before it looked like it was more than it was. If we felt that there was a major major incident we would’ve taken it to the league.”
On Dougherty, “He’s playing well. It’s tough for him a little on the left side that he’s not used to but he’s adjusting but he plays hard and hard minutes for us. He’s been a really good job on the penalty kill and being hard to play against.”
His face has had a rough season so far. At the end of November he took a high stick and lost a tooth. Last week a puck hit him in the face at practice and busted his nose open. And then in Toronto last Saturday during the break in play mentioned above he took another high stick that had more blood flowing to the ice.
With a laugh he said, “It happens to everyone and this is my year, my week, my month, whatever you want to call it.”
He didn’t want to comment on the incident in Toronto.
Dougherty currently leads the team (with active players) at a plus-12, “I can’t look at that because there’s four other guys on the ice that are making things happen too. I’m not a huge individual stat guy, obviously I don’t get very many points. I just trying to look at my game as a whole.”
On how he judges success, “Comfortably and confidence. Just looking back at the game before how you had an impact on it. We’ve all played this game long enough to know when we’ve had a good game and a bad one. Just look back at your mistakes and figure out what you need to work on.”
When it comes to defensemen the names Will Borgen and Brendan Guhle are mentioned often but Dougherty can be in that mix as well. Dougherty was drafted in 2014, Guhle was drafted in 2015. They’re both second round picks, both 51st overall.
Asked about being disappointed to get sent down but also the response in Toronto, “Obviously you don’t want to get sent down. It kind of frustrating and I hope anyone in that spot would be frustrated because everybody wants to be in the NHL. I think anybody in that spot would be a little but upset but you know what i’m not going to dwell on it and do what i can to get back up there. i was pretty happy with the response i had and a good team win too.”
He also mentioned being aware of the contract situations and said, “Sucks for me but it is what it is, there’s nothing I can really do about it right now but keep a positive attitude and keep working to get that moment again.”
Confidence booster, “It gave me a lot of confidence. It helps you to go up there and practice and get a couple games at that level. The game is really fast, guys are really skilled. I was able to roll with it. I had a lot of confidence coming back.”
Talked about the speed difference, “The play making is a different level but speed here in the American League is still fast. Guys can make plays here too. Playing up there helped, this is still a good league, not something you can just come down here and stand out every game. You still have to work for your spot.”
Asked what the Sabres had told him when he was assigned back to Rochester, “They liked my game, they liked how I played, and I liked how I played too. It’s just a tough numbers spot right now. I just need to stay patient, not dwell on it, not let it impact my game or attitude down here. Being able if that spot comes again to be the first one called up and roll with it if I get the opportunity.
First half of the season thoughts, “I love playing for this coaching staff and this team. It’s really close in there. It’s going to be a really exciting second half and we’re looking forward to making a playoff push.”
On the half way point of the season, “I think we started off really well, sometimes we’ve had some slumps where we win a game, lose a game, win a game. We want to get out of that rut and get on a winning streak but overall it’s been a pretty good start. There’s definitely room for improvement though.”
How do you think the season has gone so far?
“It’s gone pretty much according to plan. We’re pleased with where we are and so far so good.”
Is there a player that has exceeded your expectations and anyone you’d like to more performance out of?
“No I don’t think so. We spend a lot of time putting together a realistic development plan for everybody and I don’t think there’s anyone that’s fallen short and anybody that’s really really exceeded. I’d say we’re right on point. From our perspective we think guys are right on track. I expect our offensive guys will produce in the second half, our defenseman will continue to develop and grow and play well, and our goaltending has been real solid so we’re happy with where we are.”
At the start of the season the talk was of being an elite playoff team. What would you like to see more of out of this team in the second half of the season?
“I’d like to see us get off to better starts. Occasionally we’re a little slow out of the gates. We’re a much younger team than we were last year so I think part of that is our younger players learning that we have to be ready to play opening puck drop every night and every period. I’d say part of that I’d chalk up more to maturity and experience. I think year every year since I’ve been involved the intensity heightens after the all star break so we have to be sure as a team and player by player we’re ready to play with that heightened intensity and play our opponents with intensity.
In recent weeks we’ve seen a lot of AHL trades, are you looking at options? (this was asked before the Justin Bailey trade for Taylor Leier)
“We’re actively looking to improve our organization from Buffalo to Cincinnati. That’s not a unique one day one event thing. We work at that every day. It’s part of my job is to be on the phone every day talking to other teams to see what they’re looking to do. That’s an ongoing daily process. and sometimes they work out but the ratio of discussions to transactions is probably 30 to 1.”
Winning from the bottom up appears to be the long term plan…
“When we sat down at Christmas I think Buffalo was 5th or 6th in the NHL, in Rochester we were first in our division, and Cincinnati was 1st or 2nd in the ECHL. It’s that type of performance and consistency we’re striving for and we just need to maintain in the 2nd half.”
Friday night versus Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Saturday night vs Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Amerks have played better so far this season against teams at the top half of the divisions so these should be good games. As the cliche answers say, they just need to play a simple game and stick to their game plan.