ROCHESTER – Americans center Mason Jobst waited four seasons for an opportunity like this to materialize.
He bounced around the AHL, often skating short minutes in a bottom-six role without any special-teams action. Instead of playing center, his natural position, teams utilized him as a winger. He struggled to stay in the lineup, never playing more than about a month straight.
Then last season, as he began producing for the Amerks, Jobst suffered a concussion and missed three months. When he was ready to play in March, they traded him.
A dejected Jobst missed out on the Amerks’ thrilling three-round Calder Cup Playoffs run.
That’s why this year has been such a special experience for him. Right now, he’s the Amerks’ No. 1 center and tied for the team lead in scoring during the postseason.
Entering Game 3 of the best-of-five AHL North Division final tonight against the Toronto Marlies at Blue Cross Arena, Jobst has registered two goals and nine points in seven postseason outings.
He’s been on a tear since being held pointless in the first two games of the semifinal. As the Amerks grabbed a 2-0 series lead last week in Toronto, he recorded five assists, including three in Saturday’s 7-4 win.
On a team featuring some high-end Buffalo Sabres forward prospects and established AHL talent, Jobst, a former college star at Ohio State, has quietly emerged as one of the Amerks’ most valuable players.
Without him, coach Seth Appert said the Amerks “wouldn’t have finished tied for second place” during the regular season. During the year, they lost several forwards – Brandon Biro, Anders Bjork, Vinnie Hinostroza and Riley Sheahan – and sorely needed someone to step up.
“If Mason Jobst didn’t ascend to a level where he could be a top two line center in this league on a good team, we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in,” Appert said. “Not even close. That’s a real credit to him.”
Jobst, who registered 14 goals and 38 points in 61 regular-season games, feels he simply needed a chance to prove himself.
“Thirteen games was the max I’d ever played in a row coming into this year,” he told the Times Herald following Saturday’s game in Coca-Cola Coliseum. “Yeah, so it’s hard to get your legs, you’re never truly in midseason form. I think Apps knew that, I’ve known that it was going to come.
“It feel like it’s been a while, but I finally feel like healthy, I’m finally playing my position, and it’s just falling into place like I kind of expected it would.”
Appert and Jobst go way back. When Appert was coaching at RPI, he offered Jobst a scholarship to join the Engineers in Troy. Instead, the Indiana native chose Ohio State, where he developed into one of college hockey’s biggest stars.
In four years, he compiled 69 goals and 164 points in 150 games for the Buckeyes. As a senior in 2018-19, he was named a finalist for the Hockey Baker Award, college hockey’s top individual honor.
But the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Jobst, 29, couldn’t find his footing as a pro. He moved from the New York Islanders organization to the New Jersey Devils before the Amerks signed him prior to last season.
He felt comfortable in Rochester and finally found a groove, scoring four goals and 13 points in 26 games before going down. On March 28, 2022, the Amerks traded him to the San Jose Barracuda in exchange for defenseman Mark Alt.
“Last year was super emotional for me,” said Jobst, who has been centering captain Michael Mersch, who also has nine points, and Brett Murray. “I really love this team and I love being here. You could feel the buzz in the city, it was so exciting. And to have to leave was really disappointing. I think in my heart I knew that I was going to try to come back, regardless. …
“I’m just so grateful to be back and have another chance at a run like this.”
The Amerks re-signed Jobst to another AHL contract, and he set career highs across the board. He generated more offense as the season progressed, scoring 12 goals in his final 33 games.
“He’s exactly what we thought he was going to be when we signed him two years ago and then brought him back this year,” Appert said. “He didn’t have a big runway of opportunity in his first couple years of pro. … He’s an elite competitor, strong on the puck and wins a lot of puck battles and then has the skills to make plays with good players.
“He might not be the skill set of a (Jiri) Kulich or somebody like that, but he has enough skill to play with other elite players and make plays with them. But he’s just so competitive on the puck, that makes him a good defensive player but it also makes a good offensive player.”
Having a chance to play center has been critical to Jobst’s success.
“I can play freely,” he said. “I’m not thinking out there where I need to be. I can just play my game, and I kind of think that’s why I’m clicking right now, that’s why I’m fitting in.”