While he’s not exactly hanging up his skates, Chris Taylor has closed one chapter of his professional hockey career and opened up another.
Taylor, one of the most accomplished players in Rochester Americans franchise history, was introduced as the Amerks’ Development Coach at a news conference Wednesday at The Blue Cross Arena. The job change signified his retirement as a player following a storied career. His new responsibility, as a member of Head Coach Ron Rolston’s staff, will be primarily to work with the team’s forwards.
“It’s a huge thrill,” Taylor said. “This year is going to be a big year and they expect big things out of these young guys and it’s my job to help develop and teach them.”
The 39-year-old Taylor spent nine of his 19 professional seasons with Rochester and retires among the all-time franchise leaders in assists (3rd, 339), games played (4th, 519), points (5th, 481) and goals (10th, 142). He also served as team captain during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons and was an alternate captain during several other campaigns. A member of the Amerks’ 50th Anniversary Team, Taylor is also a three-time Amerks team MVP and scoring champion (2001-02, 2002-03, 2004-05) and is the only player in franchise history to achieve those two feats in the same season on three occasions.
Taylor continued to produce right to the end of his career. Over the last two seasons, he recorded a total of 112 points and ranked second on the Amerks in scoring in each of those years. While it was clear he could still play at a high level, he explained that the time was right for a change.
“There’s no question I’m going to miss playing and will want to be out there, but this is time,” Taylor said. “I had 19 great years of pro hockey, and this opportunity presented itself and I think it’s great… You definitely know what you want to do after your career is done and I knew I wanted to get into coaching. You’ve got to find that right spot and I think this is the right time and the right opportunity for me.”
Rolston praised Taylor’s experience, character, sportsmanship and dedication when introducing his staff to the media and explaining Taylor’s role.
“When I got this job, I didn’t have a strong feel of Chris at the time but I got a lot of calls from other people on Chris’ character, what he was as a player, what he meant to his team, and it certainly enticed me to do more research on Chris and find out more about him,” said Rolston.
Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier explained that one of Taylor’s most important jobs will be to devote one-on-one instruction to players both on and off the ice over the course of the long season. With the amount of experience he has as a player, Taylor feels this is a natural transition.
“Pretty much my whole career I spent talking to young kids and trying to help develop them, but I wasn’t so much teaching. Now I’ll be on a one-on-one basis. I can still relate to them how the game is played, how fast it is, and how hard it is going from junior to the pros,” Taylor said.
During his pro career, Taylor appeared in 149 NHL games with the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins and Sabres, recording 32 points on 11 goals and 21 assists. Of those 149 games, 90 came in a Buffalo uniform. In 2003-04, he set NHL career-highs in games played (54), goals (6), assists (6) and points (12) while with the Sabres. Prior to joining the Sabres/Amerks organization in 1999, Taylor won two Turner Cup Championships with Utah of the International Hockey League. The Stratford, Ontario native was originally drafted by the Islanders in the second round (27th overall) of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft and finished his pro career with 1,297 games played at the NHL, AHL, IHL and European levels. He first played for the Amerks in 1999 and spent the next seven years splitting time between Rochester and Buffalo. After a three-year stint in Germany, he returned to the Amerks in 2009 for his final two seasons.
A respected leader throughout his career and two-time Amerks captain, Taylor was a key player during the 2004-05 campaign when the team won the MacGregor Kilpatrick Trophy for having the best regular season record in the AHL by going 51-19-4-6 for 112 points. On a team that included current Sabres star forwards Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Paul Gaustad, it was Taylor who led the team in scoring by collecting 79 points (21 goals, 58 assists) in 79 games that season.
Taylor, a playmaking center who doled out more assists than every single Amerk in history aside from Jody Gage and Bronco Horvath, will continue to help Rochester forwards, just in a different way. And while he acknowledges that it will be tough trading in his pads for a whistle, he’s ready for the next challenge.
“Once you get that job to do something else, your mindset switches gears. I really wanted this position. The last six or seven years, I didn’t know if I wanted to keep playing or if I wanted to coach, but this opportunity came about so I took it and I’m so excited to do it.”