Rochester’s Sean Malone battles for position Saturday between Hershey’s Logan Day and goalie Hunter Shepard. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Rochester Amerks lose, fall behind to Hershey: ‘Tackle football out there’

ROCHESTER – After the Americans opened the AHL Eastern Conference finals by scoring another five goals, it felt like their offense might overwhelm another opponent.

In winning two Calder Cup Playoffs series, the Amerks averaged six goals a game in their six victories. They seemed to be picking up where they left off.

But in Games 2 and 3 against the Hershey Bears, the Amerks have been forced to play what coach Seth Appert called “traditional playoff hockey.”

The games are tighter and lower scoring. Sometimes it’s clutch-and-grab hockey. Penalties are often overlooked, as they were throughout Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Bears before a capacity crowd of 10,746 fans at Blue Cross Arena.

The Amerks, who trail the best-of-seven series 2-1, scored twice by getting bodies to the net.

“The way the game’s being officiated, we got to score the way we scored because it’s tackle football out there,” Appert said. “We just got to get to the net – screens, tips, rebounds. And we scored a lot of goals this year that way, so I’m not worried about that.”

Appert said the Amerks, who won the series opener 5-1 before falling 2-0 in Game 2, can’t get frustrated by the style of play.

“You need to get (ticked) off,” he said.

Center Sean Malone, who scored the Amerks’ second goal by fighting to get to the net, said they’ve “got to fight through” a different brand of hockey.

“There’s nothing we can do about it now,” he said. “Maybe in the moment you get frustrated with the referees, but it’s not about them. It’s about us. We have to keep battling through that. … We can’t sit here and blame the refs or anything like that.”

The crowd was irate at the referees – Justin Kea, a former Amerks forward and Buffalo Sabres prospect, and Morgan MacPhee – throughout the night. When Amerks winger Linus Weissbach received what appeared to be a ticky-tack slashing penalty in the second period, Sam Anas put Hershey up 2-0, and fans lost it again.

When Appert was asked what he thought about Weissbach’s infraction, he said he couldn’t answer the question.

“I don’t know what a penalty is,” said Appert, whose Amerks had two power plays Saturday.

The Bears, of course, have settled down, receiving splendid goaltending from Hunter Shepard, who has stopped 53 of the 55 shots he has faced since getting yanked after allowing four goals in Game 1.

“They got a big, physical team,” Appert said. “They’re well-coached. They’re the best defensive team in the league, so this isn’t surprising. … This is exactly the team we thought we’d be playing. We got to score more dirty goals to be able to get to that. They’re an aggressive forechecking team that has become less aggressive because of the speed we have in transition.”

With the Bears clinging to a 3-2 lead Saturday about 13 minutes into the third period, he made a point-blank stop on Amerks rookie center Jiri Kulich, one of his 31 stops.

The Bears never trailed Saturday, getting a first-period goal from Logan Day. Amerks defenseman Zach Metsa scored his first AHL goal 7:57 into the second period. The Amerks’ traffic in front of Shepard helped his point shot get in.

Connor McMichael restored Hershey’s two-goal lead at 10:57. The Bears scored on two of their four shots on Amerks goalie Malcolm Subban in the second period.

The Amerks pumped 13 shots on Shepard in the third period, but only Malone’s shot at 7:36 beat him. Aliaksei Protas added an empty-net goal.

Sabres prospect Matt Savoie, the ninth overall pick in 2022, spent most of the game at left wing beside Kulich and rookies Lukas Rousek or Tyson Kozak. In his first two pro outings, Savoie, 19, hasn’t registered a shot on goal.

Game 4 is Monday in Rochester.

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