Amerks: January in review

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Photo credit Photo: Micheline Michaelina - Rochester Americans
By WGR 550 SportsRadio

The month of January was a nice rebound for the Rochester Americans after and up-and-down month of December that saw the team falling out of the top spot in the North Division.

In 10 games in January, the Amerks went 6-2-2 to improve their overall record to 26-13-3-1 and 56 points. That helped the Amerks back to the top of the division with a three-point lead over the Syracuse Crunch, a five-point lead over the Utica Comets and a six-point lead over the Toronto Marlies.

The only downside to their recent play has been the inability to string together more than three consecutive wins in the schedule. Rochester has not put together a three-game winning streak since early December, but the team did end the month riding a six-game point streak.

The month started with an exhilarating shootout victory over the visiting Bridgeport Sound Tigers at Blue Cross Arena. After the Amerks fell behind by a 3-1 score in the second period, the team got goals from Danny O'Regan in the second period and Andrew MacWilliam in the third period tied things up. However, the Sound Tigers scored again at the 6:13 mark of the third to re-gain the lead. With time running out and the Amerks needing the game-tying goal, Alex Nylander set up Rasmus Asplund with a perfect feed to the side of the Bridgeport net, and the rookie center tied the game with 12-seconds remaining in regulation.

Win the face off, score a goal. Asplund ties the game 4-4 with 12 seconds left!!

— Let's Go Amerks (@LetsGoAmerks) January 3, 2019

After a scoreless overtime, Victor Olofsson's goal in the first round of the shootout was all the Amerks needed to down the Sound Tigers by a 5-4 score.

The Amerks followed that win up with another shootout win, this time on the road in Laval, Quebec against the Rocket. In this one, Nylander scored the game-winning goal in the fifth round of the shootout to give Rochester the extra point in a 3-2 win. That was on top of the goal he had scored in the second period to tie the game at 1-1. Judd Peterson scored his first goal in the American Hockey League to tie the game at 2-2 with just 49-seconds remaining in the second period as he tried a pass across the ice to O'Regan that went off a defenseman and into the net.

Rochester wrapped up the two-game series in Laval with a 2-1 loss, despite getting out to a 1-0 first period lead thanks to Zach Redmond's 16th goal of the season. It was Rocket forward Alexandre Grenier who beat goalie Adam Wilcox through a screen with 13:10 remaining to put Laval up for good.

Nearly one week later, the Amerks returned home to Blue Cross Arena to host the Toronto for the first game of a home-and-home set with the Marlies. However, they laid an egg in front of the home crowd with a 5-1 loss. After O'Regan scored in the second period to tie the game at 1-1, the Marlies went on to score four unanswered goals and did not allow too many high-danger chances to the Amerks. 

The next day at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario, C.J. Smith made his return to the lineup after being recently re-assigned to the Amerks by the Buffalo Sabres. In his return, Smith was dominant from start to finish by scoring a hat-trick and registering a four-point night in a 5-1 win on the road. The 24-year-old scored both of Rochester's first two goals, and capped off the night with an empty-netter to put the game on ice. It was Smith's second career hat-trick with the Amerks, and his first since March 18, 2018 against the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Then on Thursday, January 17, the Sabres pulled off a trade that saw long-time Amerks forward Justin Bailey get traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for forward Taylor Leier. Bailey finished his career with the Amerks playing in 196 games, scoring 62 goals and registering 116 points.

As for Leier, he came to the Amerks with 226 games under his belt with the Flyers' AHL affiliate. In parts of four seasons with the Phantoms, Leier scored a total of 56 goals and put up 136 points.

The Amerks continued their three-game road trip next Friday with a trip down to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania for a meeting with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The game was a back-and-forth affair with both teams exchanging lead changes heading into the third period. At the 8:55 mark of the third period, the Amerks took a 4-3 lead when O'Regan chased down a puck flipped into the Wilkes-Barre zone and dropped it back to Olofsson coming on with him. The 23-year-old winger then fired a low shot through the five-hole of goalie Tristan Jarry to give Rochester the lead. Olofsson was not done there as 5:36 later, the left winger fired home a one-time feed from Nylander to give the Amerks a 5-3 lead.

That's what was needed. Great pass by Nylander, on the knee one timer by Olofsson! Amerks up 5-3!

— Let's Go Amerks (@LetsGoAmerks) January 19, 2019

The Penguins managed to get one more goal by Scott Wedgewood in goal to make things interesting, but the Amerks goalie held down the fort to give the Amerks a 5-4 win.

The following night saw the Amerks dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to Bailey and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in Allentown, Pa. Rochester got goals from Kevin Porter and Matt Tennyson in regulation, but failed to score in three rounds of the shootout to grab a third straight win.

In his debut with the Amerks, Leier only registered one shot on goal and was a plus-1 in the loss. On the other side of things, Bailey registered two shots on goal in the winning effort. 

Rochester returned home on that next Wednesday to host the Binghamton Devils in another thrilling rollercoaster of a game. The Amerks ended up getting seven goals in regulation to down the Devils 7-5 at Blue Cross Arena, and got goals from six different players on the roster. Although the Amerks gave up a three-goal lead in the second period, they were able to get two goals in a 56-second span to re-take the lead at 6-4 before the end of the middle stanza.

Two nights later, the Amerks grabbed another shootout win at home with a 3-2 victory over the Comets on Defend the Ice Night. Heading into the third period tied at 1-1, Utica's Reid Boucher broke the tie with 8:46 to go as he turned and fired a high-rising shot over the short-side shoulder of goalie Jonas Johansson. However, the Amerks never quit, and their determination got them back in the hockey game with 1:44 to go in the game. After C.J. Smith's initial shot did not make it through to the net, Tennyson gathered the loose puck and fired a wrist shot through a screen and in behind Comets netminder Ivan Kulbakov.

After another five minutes of hockey solved nothing, the Amerks and Comets proceeded to the shootout. After Olofsson and Smith scored in the second and third round to tie the shootout at 2-2, it was Leier who gave the Amerks the advantage in the seventh round. Johansson sealed the game with a stop on Carter Bancks to give Rochester the extra point.

The next night, the Amerks closed out the month of January with a road matchup against the Syracuse Crunch at the War Memorial Arena. Scott Wilson and Kyle Criscuolo scored Rochester's early goals as both teams headed into the third period with the Amerks in front, 2-1. After Jan Rutta tied the game early in the third, Brendan Guhle scored off a quick shot from the point to give the Amerks the lead with 10:41 to go. However, Crunch forward Carter Verhaeghe had a night as he scored his second goal of the night with just 1:27 remaining to tie the game at 3-3 and force overtime.

Just nine-seconds into overtime, Verhaeghe stole a puck that got away from Tennyson in the Rochester zone and fired a shot over the blocker of Adam Wilcox in goal to complete the hat-trick and hand Syracuse the crucial extra point.

In case you missed it, here is how the schedule played out for the month:

  • Wednesday, January 2 - vs. Bridgeport (5-4 SO win)
  • Friday, January 4 - at Laval (3-2 SO win)
  • Saturday, January 5 - at Laval (2-1 loss)
  • Friday, January 11 - vs. Toronto (5-1 loss)
  • Saturday, January 12 - at Toronto (5-1 win)
  • Friday, January 18 - at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (5-4 win)
  • Saturday, January 19 - at Lehigh Valley (3-2 SO loss)
  • Wednesday, January 23 - vs. Binghamton (7-5 win)
  • Friday, January 25 - vs. Utica (3-2 SO win)
  • Saturday, January 26 - at Syracuse (4-3 OT loss)

Game of the Month: January 23 vs. Binghamton

The Amerks got out to an early 3-0 lead in the first period with goals from Wilson, O'Regan and Leier in the first 15:51 of the period. For both Wilson and Leier, it was their first goals in an Amerks uniform.

Rochester's momentum took a minor hit with just 45-seconds left in the period as Devils forward Nathan Bastian danced his way around Guhle at the top of the faceoff circle to the left of Wedgewood, cut to the slot and backhanded his shot low, off the post and in.

The Amerks re-gained their three-goal lead as Olofsson came off the bench and found some wide-open space to receive a pass from Asplund behind the net. Olofsson had all the time available to him to fire a wrist shot over the glove hand of goalie Cory Schneider from the faceoff circle to increase the lead to 4-1.

That's when the Amerks coughed up the three-goal lead, and it only took the Devils a span of 1:55 to tie the hockey game at 4-4.

The Devils scored just 1:47 after Olofsson's goal when Wedgewood was knocked off his feet in the crease by Michael McLeod, forcing him out of position. After a couple of whacks away at the puck in the crease, Eric Tangradi put the puck in to make it a 4-2 game. The Amerks argued that the goal shouldn't count because of goaltender interference, but it was allowed to stand.

Another 1:46 later, the Devils cut the Amerks' lead to just one as Brandon Gignac used his speed to beat out Zach Redmond for a puck in the neutral zone and go in on a partial breakaway. Gignac then fired in a wicked wrist shot over the short-side, glove hand of Wedgewood for his eighth goal of the season.

Binghamton evened the game up just nine seconds later as the Devils quickly entered the Amerks zone off the ensuing faceoff. After a shot from McLeod was blocked by Tennyson, the rebound went to Bastian, who fired a shot over Wedgewood on the glove side to tie the game at 4-4.

However, the Devils got into some penalty trouble just moments later, giving the Amerks a 4-on-3 power play chance with 4:50 to go in the second period. Just 17-seconds into the power play for the Amerks, C.J. Smith's original shot goes off the post and bounces behind Schneider and through the crease. After Olofsson whiffs on his rebound attempt, O'Regan came in and cleaned up the loose change to re-gain the lead for Rochester.

56-seconds later, with both teams back at full strength, Porter makes a nice play at the Binghamton blue line to force a turnover and get in behind the defense. Defenseman Zach Redmond read the play very well and streaked in to make it a 2-on-0 rush to the Devils net. The Amerks captain then fed Redmond, who quickly put his snap shot over the leg of a sprawling Schneider for his 19th goal of the season.

With the goal, Redmond set an Amerks franchise record for the most goals by a defenseman in a season, breaking a 45-year record set by Rick Pagnutti back in the 1972-73 season.


— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) January 24, 2019

Devils forward Nick Saracino made things interesting in the third period with a goal to cut the Amerks' lead to 6-5 with 15:42 remaining in the third period. Saracino got the goal off a re-direction in front of Wedgewood that snuck its was through the five-hole.

Wayne Simpson ended up putting the game to bed with an empty net goal with just 29-seconds remaining in the game. However, just moments before the goal, Redmond ended up falling in behind the Rochester net and came up injured with a lower-body injury. He went immediately to the dressing room and did not come out for the game's three star honors.


Here is a run down of how some players performed in the month of January:

  • C.J. Smith

In the six games played in January since he was re-assigned to the Amerks, C.J. Smith registered a point in each of the games he has played. He kicked off the six-game point streak with a hat-trick and a four point night, and then went on to register five assists in the following five games. Smith went back to Rochester and continued to flourish off the success he had in his short stint with the Sabres. In many games during the month of January, Smith was, by far, the best player on the ice by using his speed and offensive smarts to take advantage of his opponents. He also looked very good defensively, playing some smart hockey in his own end and making the right plays to help his team out of danger.

After two more games in February, Smith earned another call up to the Sabres where he has been since. Certainly a well-deserved honor for the 24-year-old winger. 

  • Victor Olofsson

Olofsson continues to show some promising signs of his future with the Sabres organization with the way his first season in North America has played out so far. January was a solid month for the 23-year-old winger as he scored four goals and picked up eight assists in 10 games played. In the first 40 games of his AHL career, Olofsson has scored 14 goals and registered 37 points. His transition to the North American game has gone very well so far, not just with his speed but also the way he sees the game and his physical strength. It's starting to look more and more like his call to the NHL could be coming sooner rather than later. 

  • Alex Nylander

Nylander has continued to come along nicely in his third season in the AHL, despite his lack of production in the stats department. He's continuing to go to the dirty areas to engage in puck battles, and he's been doing a lot less puck watching and playing with more of an edge to his game. This past month only produced a goal and three assists, but it's what he's doing away from the puck that has stood out more than anything this season. That's a huge step for him with the way his development has gone to this point. Although he suffered an upper-body injury at a practice last week, when he returns to the lineup, it's time to see a little more from him offensively. 

  • Taylor Leier

Since coming over from the Flyers organization, it has been a slow but steady transition to the Amerks for Leier. In the four games he played in the month of February, Leier scored a goal and also picked up a shootout goal. He's not a player that is going to completely standout and be a consistent NHL player, but he's a serviceable offensive asset that can be reliable in a pinch.  

  • Danny O'Regan

January was a very good month for O'Regan as he lit up the scoresheet with six goals and nine points in 10 games. The 25-year-old continues to produce in all areas of the ice, and is playing consistent hockey on a line with Olofsson and Asplund. He's another guy who is eagerly awaiting his next chance at the NHL, and he will be ready when his name is called. 

  • Rasmus Asplund

Asplund continues his progression into becoming a solid depth center in North America. The 21-year-old scored a goal and picked up four assists in his 10 games during the month, and has shown how durable he's been for the Amerks with the amount of work he keeps getting handed to him from head coach Chris Taylor. It will be fun to see how he continues to develop over the next couple of months as the season winds down. 

  • Brendan Guhle

Guhle's All-Star appearance was nothing to bat an eye at, going pointless as the North Division went on to win the All-Star Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts. However, Guhle's season continues to have its ups and downs with some strong offensive play, but then the defensive lapses that can cost the team at the worst times. If he can even out his play and improve on his consistency, he could earn his shot at a spot in the NHL. Until he does that, he has to keep growing his game in the AHL.


Here's also an update on the list of injuries the Amerks have been dealing with since Feb. 13
  • Zach Redmond - Lower-body injury (week-to-week)
  • Alex Nylander - Upper-body injury (week-to-week)
  • Andrew Oglevie - Upper-body injury (week-to-week)
  • Sean Malone - Undisclosed injury (week-to-week)
  • Kevin Porter - Lower-body injury (day-to-day)
  • Kyle Criscuolo - Lower-body injury (day-to-day)