In recent weeks it’s been said that the upcoming games are the biggest games of the season and that continues to hold true heading into this weekend as the Rochester Americans have slipped to second place for essentially the first time all season. There have been a couple of times based on points percentage they were in second but this is the first time that Syracuse has had more points.
(Featured picture by Amerks photographer Micheline Veluvolu)
I asked Zach Redmond, CJ Smith, and Victor Olofsson if these were the new biggest games of the weekend.
Zach Redmond, “That’s kind of how it works from here on out. We have a little break coming up in six games so we’re just focused on taking it one game at a time and setting ourselves up for that post break stretch.”
CJ Smith with a laugh recognizing the pattern of using the big weekend line said, “I think we say that every weekend but it kind of is. Syracuse caught up to us so these are some pretty important games this weekend for us.”
Victor Olofsson, “Every weekend is a big weekend for us at this point of the year. It’s going to be a tough weekend. I feel like we had a good week last week but we weren’t happy with the last game versus Syracuse so hopefully we can bounce back Friday night.”
There were a number of reasons the team wasn’t happy with the last game against Syracuse [ Game Recap Here ] and one way to fix that was with one of the toughest practices of the season. The team had a day off on Monday, hard practice Tuesday, day off on Wednesday.
“I think as a player sometimes it sucks getting bagged a little bit in practice but you’re pretty thankful after just because after a day off you kind of feel a little bit off and when you have a practice like that it kind of sets the intensity and kind of gets you back into the groove a little bit,” Taylor Leier said after practice on Tuesday. “Rest is very important at this time of year and you know we’re lucky that he’s giving us two days off this week to kind of regroup and get ready to empty the tank this weekend.”
Zach Redmond talked about the practice saying, “I think it was a little tougher because he gave us a couple days off also. You have to battle. No one likes to do it in practice against your friends but it’s good for you, you have to do it, and we definitely did it this week.”
“We have to get used to battling every day,” Chris Taylor said after practice on Tuesday. “If it’s battling against each other in practice it makes us better for the games, offense and defense. I think it’s very important that we we continue to do that, the right habits, doing the right things at the right time, and pushing ourselves in practice.”
Leier used the word bagged but it wasn’t a bag skate that many probably think of. There weren’t non stop suicides. A typical practice is around 45 minutes but this one went a full 75. It was a lot of one on ones, two on twos, guys in your face, and physical battles. There was a lot of stick banging on the ice to increase the pace and everyone followed through. Afterwards the team morale was still high and guys were feeling good.
“It was a tough practice. Obviously it was very hard,” Victor Olofsson said. “But I think it gives you confidence too when you’re working hard in practice. That should also help you in the games.”
There’s confidence within the team that they can continue having success into the spring but there isn’t a sense of comfort. Since the start of the season the power play has gotten better, the penalty kill has gotten better, and they’ve even corrected mistakes giving up third period leads. There’s still work to do in all areas. Last season the top four in the North Division was set by late December, this season anything is still possible in a five team playoff race. The goal remains the same – being an elite playoff team and now getting back into first place.
“I think there’s just that kind of assurance in here,” Redmond said when asked about the confidence of the team. “We had a really good team last year. I don’t think our record was all that much different if I remember right. There just seems to be a bit of an assurance like, we have the team. We know we do. It’s really up to us. It’s in our hands what we want to do with it. That’s a cool thing to have, it’s in our control and up to us to find it.”
Victor Olofsson talked about first place saying, “In the beginning of the year the goal was to make the playoffs but I think in the spot we’re in right now we want to get that first place spot.”
“You pay attention to it of course but you have to take it one game at a time and then at the end of the year you can sum it up a little bit,” Olofsson said when asked about looking at the standings. “One game at a time and don’t get too ahead of yourself.”
Zach Redmond talked about looking at the standings and said, “You look to see where you’re stacked up and what you can do to improve. Kind of helps you put a plan together going forward. Things will unfold how they unfold.”
At this time the team only has one injured player (Kyle Criscuolo) besides the bumps and bruises everyone goes through. Kevin Porter and Wayne Simpson are expected back in the lineup tonight after missing games last weekend. The only player out of the lineup will be Remi Elie to serve a one game suspension.
“There’s going to be a lot of internal pressure these last 18 games,” Chris Taylor said talking about the roster. “I’ve told them that we’re going to find out who’s going to be in the starting lineup for the playoffs and that’s the truth of it. It’s not what you did at the start of the year, it’s what you’re doing now. Who’s ready to play, who’s going to play the hard minutes, who’s going to block a shot, who’s going to take a hit to make a play. All of those things add up. It’s fun. It’s not the best thing as a coach to do but when we have healthy forwards and we can only dress 12 that makes a lot of good competition.”
A tough practice, a typical practice before a game, saying all of the right things, now it’s time to follow through. The team has a stretch of six games in nine days before a planned two day break. The next six games they’ll play Bridgeport, Binghamton (twice), Utica, and Charlotte (twice).
Rochester has won three games this season vs Bridgeport, all one goal games. One was decided in overtime, another in a shootout. Rochester has a 6-3 record vs Utica this season with wins in the last two games. In six games vs Binghamton they have a 4-2 record with wins in the last two games. The final two games of the stretch vs Charlotte will be the most interesting. Charlotte was in Rochester to start the season and handed Rochester back to back losses. As it turns out, Charlotte has been the top team in the league all season.
The team had broken the season up into four different segments and these upcoming six days is the last one before the final 12 games of he season. After the team plays in Charlotte there’s a two day break where everyone has plans to either take a quick getaway to Charleston, New York City, or simply head home to visit family and friends. One thing is certain – no one is looking that far ahead. This team is focused on the importance of the games ahead. The other segments were the start of the season to the Christmas break, Christmas to All-Star, All-Star to Charlotte, and then finishing the season.
Chris Taylor said, “I think we’re going to learn a lot about our team. I want everybody to play well. I want really hard decisions going into the stretch.”
One player that isn’t likely to come out of the lineup any time soon is Taylor Leier. In his last eight games he has 7 points (3G+4A) and is relentless with every shift. The coaching staff and teammates describe him as someone full of heart and soul. He’s determined like everyone else to get back to the NHL but more importantly he’s committed to the team he’s currently playing on.
“I’m super invested, I’m pumped for a hopeful playoff run, and I’m 100% in,” Leier said after the tough practice on Tuesday. “I’m really looking forward to it. I made the playoffs with the Phantom’s once but we didn’t have very much depth. We lost in game five in the first round to Hershey. I was pretty choked with that and you know, I want to win plain and simple.”
They practice the right way, have the right mindset, and said the right things. Only thing left to do is put it all into action and win.
Mentioned above, Kevin Porter and Wayne Simpson are expected back in the lineup tonight returning from minor injuries. Remi Elie will be out to serve his one game suspension.
Possible lines for Friday night based on practice:
CJ Smith, Kevin Porter, Wayne Simpson
Victor Olofsson, Rasmus Asplund, Danny O’Regan
Alex Nylander, Taylor Leier, Andrew Oglevie
Eric Cornel, Sean Malone, Yannick Veilleux
Matt Tennyson, Zach Redmond
Lawrence Pilut, Will Borgen
Jack Dougherty, Andrew MacWilliam
Extras: Dalton Smith, Tyler Randell, Remi Elie (suspended 1 game), Brandon Hickey, Nathan Paetsch
Injured: Kyle Criscuolo
The next six games they’ll play Bridgeport, Binghamton (twice), Utica, and Charlotte (twice).
Friday March 8, 2019 – Home vs Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Saturday March 9, 2019 – Away at Binghamton Devils
Sunday March 10, 2019 – Home vs Binghamton Devils
Wednesday March 13, 2019 – Home vs Utica Comets
Friday March 15, 2019 – Away at Charlotte Checkers
Saturday March 16, 2019 – Away at Charlotte Checkers
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