ROCHESTER – The reality Seth Appert would never coach this group of Americans again hit him hard in the moments after Friday’s season-ending 1-0 loss to the Hershey Bears.
This group, Appert said, took time to find its way. In late February, the Amerks were mired in sixth place. In the beginning of the season, they lost their starting goalie and two established talents expected to be big contributors.
“Success and this high a level of success, last four teams playing in this league, this was not preordained for this group,” Appert said following Game 6 of the AHL Eastern Conference finals.
But Appert said his players grew into a team that “played the right way and loved playing for each other, loved being Amerks.” They roared up the standings, finishing third in the AHL North Division before beginning a memorable three-round, 14-game run in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“I’m incredibly proud of them,” he said. “And so to not get to come to practice or have another game with them is probably worse than anything.”
He added: “The growth of the team is probably what sticks out the most.”
While they fell short of a championship, the Amerks will still raise a banner next season for winning the North Division.
“It’s not the banner we wanted, but it’s a banner we’re going to be damn proud of,” Appert said.
An emotional Lawrence Pilut said he’s “so proud to be a part of this team.”
“It’s been awesome,” the Amerks defenseman said. “(It’s been a long time since I) was part of such an unbelievable team. And, yeah, just the fans and everything has been great, too. It was really cool to see throughout the playoffs and everything else. It just bonded the whole city of Rochester, to be honest. I’m just grateful to have been a part of it.”
The Amerks battled until the bitter end Friday before a crowd of 8,777 fans amped to see one more victory. Having staved off elimination four times during the playoffs, including once earlier this week, you knew they wouldn’t go quietly.
Appert said the Amerks played perhaps their best game of the series. Still, they couldn’t beat Hershey goalie Hunter Shepard, who made 24 saves in his second shutout of the final.
“Our defense locked them down,” Appert said. “I thought we outplayed them tonight. I thought we had the better of the scoring chances. I thought our team play was awesome.”
The best and most unique team since the Buffalo Sabres renewed their affiliation in 2011 struggled to score against the Bears’ tight defense, mustering just 13 goals in the series, five of which came in Game 1. The Amerks compiled a whopping 41 goals during their seven-game postseason winning streak, which ended in Game 2.
Hershey’s Shane Gersich scored the game’s only goal, his first of the postseason, beating goalie Malcolm Subban from the slot 12:40 into the second period.
The Amerks enjoyed plenty of opportunities Friday. But they couldn’t convert during a 1:25 two-man advantage in the second period. Center Mason Jobst also failed to get a shot on a goal during a breakaway in the period.
Losing winger Linus Weissbach to a lower-body injury in the first period also hurt the Amerks.
The Amerks utilized the same lineup that won 4-1 on Wednesday in Hershey, dressing 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Austin Strand served as the extra defender. Center Kohen Olischefski, a regular for most of the postseason, sat out again.
Sabres center prospect Matt Savoie, the ninth overall pick in 2022, skated in the pregame warm-up but was scratched. Savoie, 19, played Games 2 and 3, moving to left wing for his first two games as a pro.