Rochester captain Michael Mersch reacts after scoring in Friday’s game. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu, Rochester Americans

Rochester Amerks’ ‘unreal group’ will change as players leave, join Sabres

ROCHESTER – Seth Appert believes each year, no matter how special of a group you had the previous season, you must start over. If a team comes together – that’s a big if – it takes time.

“If you think you can start where you left off the year before, you’re setting yourself up for massive failure,” the Americans coach said following Friday’s 5-2 season-ending loss to the Syracuse Crunch in Game 5 of the AHL North Division semifinal.

This season, 19 players who played games for the Amerks in 2022-23, a campaign in which they reached the Eastern Conference final, suited up again.

Most of the Amerks’ core – from high-end forward prospects like Jiri Kulich and Isak Rosen to veterans like captain Michael Mersch and defenseman Ethan Prow – returned to the Buffalo Sabres’ affiliate. Incredibly, their top nine scorers came back, a rarity for an AHL team.

Still, it took months for everything to mesh. Appert said trust must be earned from each other.

“You do that by your actions, how you act every day, how you come to the rink, the work ethic you put in, how you practice,” he said.

Then, Appert explained, during rough moments when injuries or recalls might decimate the lineup, “the group needs to not give up on each other in those hard moments.”

“That’s where you form, that’s where that shared belief in each other, it comes from, that this guy next to me was there for me in hard times,” he said. “And then you grow from that.”

The Amerks, like the last two seasons, grew into a tight-knit group that played for each other. Appert said around the middle of the season, in late January, he realized he had a special, unique team.

“That’s when we started to go on a pretty big run to be able to tie for first in the division,” he said.

Friday’s loss in the hit Appert hard. Chances are the Amerks will look much different next season.

Some players will graduate to Buffalo. Goalie Devon Levi, for example, looks ready to fight for playing time with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen with the Sabres.

Others will pursue opportunities elsewhere. Goalie Dustin Tokarski, defenseman Joseph Cecconi and Jeremy Davies and forwards Brandon Biro, Brett Murray, Justin Richards and Linus Weissbach all have expiring two-way NHL contracts and can become unrestricted free agents. Mersch, Prow and leading scorer Mason Jobst all have expiring AHL deals.

Some might find a better opportunities in another organization or a bigger payday in Europe.

Appert could draw interest from NHL teams, including the Sabres, who have an opening on new coach Lindy Ruff’s staff. The Amerks won two series in the Calder Cup Playoffs in each of the two previous seasons.

Following Friday’s loss in Blue Cross Arena, Appert said he told his players “how much I love them, how grateful I am to have the privilege to coach them.”

He wishes he had one more time with them.

“Unreal group,” he said. “I’ve said this, but I’ve had to stop practice two times all year to yell at them. They practice hard. They care about each other. They treat each other the right way. They treat our sports staff the right way, just how good of a group of men on and off the ice. I’ve coached 29 years. You’d love that every year but that’s not the way it works, and this group had it.

“That’s why we became the team we became in the second half of the season. That’s why this stings even more. I’d love to win a Calder Cup, but probably more importantly, I’d love to just get to coach them in practice this coming week.”

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