BUFFALO – Instead of getting into a deep discussion of Xs and Os with job candidates or having them diagram plays, Rochester Americans coach Seth Appert prefers to conduct more personal interviews.
“I’m a people-oriented, relationship-oriented person,” the loquacious Appert said Sunday following the first session of Sabres development camp at LECOM Harborcenter.
Appert, whose two assistant coaches, Michael Peca and Mike Weber, both recently left for NHL jobs, said he wants to talk to candidates “as human beings.”
“I’m going to make sure it’s someone that fits our culture of our organization that’s set by Kevyn (Adams) that fits what we’re trying to build in Rochester but also is a great role model for our prospects, whether that’s his playing career, his coaching experience or who they are as a human being, because we need to have great role models for our prospects,” he said.
Appert said in the next week or so both jobs should be filled. Rochester’s recent success – they’ve won four series in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs in the last two seasons and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals this year – has made it an attractive place to potentially work.
“We’ve just had tremendous interest in the positions,” Amerks general manager Jason Karmanos said Monday.
Considering the Amerks have won a lot of games and developed prospects who graduated to the Sabres, it wasn’t surprising the assistants drew NHL interest. The New York Rangers hired Peca, while the St. Louis Blues brought in Weber.
Appert grew close to Peca and Weber during their time together. He even lived with Weber.
“I’m absolutely thrilled (for them),” Appert said. “That’s part of my job is to develop players for the National Hockey League for the Buffalo Sabres but also develop our staff so they can chase their dreams as well. I’ll be friends and brothers with those guys for the rest of my life. It’s one of the best coaching staffs in terms of work, but also character and camaraderie that I’ve been fortunate to be part of. Those guys are awesome, just incredibly happy for them.”
Appert’s ability to delegate and trust his assistants helped the staff mesh. He never played pro hockey – he was a college goalie – and began coaching in the NCAA in his 20s. He became the head coach at RPI when he was 32.
Peca and Weber played a combined 1,215 NHL games. Appert understood they had different experiences they could relay to players.
If the Amerks have another successful season, Appert, 48, could certainly draw interest from NHL teams. Appert, who never coached pro hockey before the Sabres hired him in 2020, has developed as fast as some of the Sabres’ top prospects.
Adams said last week he believes he will be a big league head coach someday.
Appert prefers to stay in the moment.
“I’m the head coach of the Rochester Americans,” he said. “That’s just how I’ve always looked at it. I love working for the Buffalo Sabres and I love coaching in Rochester. So I put a high value on who I work for and with. And to get to work for Kevyn Adams and Jason Karmanos, who they are as people, who they are as hockey men, the kind of family men they are, that isn’t taken lightly by me.”
Appert said he’s “not someone who thinks the grass is always greener.” He’s never had a five-year career plan or chased jobs.
“I’ve always just tried to be as good as I could be and try to be the best coach I could be for my players, where I am,” he said. “… My sole focus is on helping the Buffalo Sabres chase a Stanley Cup and helping us in Rochester develop prospects for the Buffalo Sabres while also trying to win in Rochester.
“I believe if I do a good enough job of that, the rest will take care of itself.”
On Saturday, the Sabres signed decorated AHL veteran Dustin Tokarski, who previously spent two seasons in the organization, to possibly be Rochester’s starting goalie.
Don’t, however, pencil in Tokarski, 33, as the No. 1 netminder yet.
They also inked goalie Devin Cooley, who has no NHL experience, to a two-way contract.
The undrafted Cooley, who played a few games in the ECHL as late as 2021-22, has quietly developed into a strong AHL goalie.
In each of the last two years, Cooley, 26, has supplanted the Milwaukee Admirals’ No. 1 goalie and become the starter in the postseason.
“Goalies have their own timeline, and it’s usually not pretty quick,” Appert said. “He’s a guy that had an up-and-down college career (at Denver) and has really had to grind and dig to become a high-end American League goalie. They had Connor Ingram two years ago and he ended up starting in the playoffs over Connor Ingram. They have (Yaroslav) Askarov, a high, high first-round pick for a goalie. He ended up starting over Askarov in the playoffs. Those are not decisions that are made easily or lightly in an organization to not have your starting goalie, your big prospect goalie playing in the playoffs.
“And so for him to have earned that speaks a lot about the quality of goaltender he is but also what he is about as a competitor.”
Malcolm Subban, the Amerks’ No. 1 goalie last season, signed with the St. Louis Blues as a free agent.
“We had talked to Subby, had great conversations, but I think he just looked at the situation somewhere else as a better opportunity for him,” Adams said Sunday.
Subban, 29, played four games for the Sabres in 2021-22 and zero last year. At the end of the NHL season, he ranked fifth on the organization’s depth chart.
Adams said the Sabres were looking into adding more forwards Saturday, the start of free agency, but nothing materialized.
“Got close on one of them, didn’t happen,” he said. “But they weren’t things that I was willing to compromise and chase to overpay or anything like that.”
With winger Jack Quinn sidelined until possibly midseason after tearing his Achilles tendon last week during offseason training, the Sabres could look for help up front.
“(The injury) changes in terms of what our forward group looks like, but I also think there’s a lot of internal competition in spots that people are going to come into training camp hungry for, and some really good young players are going to push,” Adams said. “And we also want to maintain flexibility with where we go from here. There’s still free agents out there that we can talk to and see where it is.”
Notes: Karmanos said the Amerks are looking to beef up their defense depth. “Conversations are ongoing with a couple of players who are still available,” he said. … He said the Sabres will have a new ECHL affiliate “shortly.” They had been with the Cincinnati Cyclones since 2017. … Adams said Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen had a “minor procedure” on his ankle following the season. … Five Sabres prospects, including center Noah Ostlund, the 16th overall pick in 2022, are in town but not skating because of injuries. Meanwhile, Adam Mair, Buffalo’s director of player development, is absent this week for personal reasons.