By Erica Whyte
When the final horn sounded in Belleville on April 14, the Rochester Americans had just put the finishing touches on one of their most successful seasons in recent years. The team’s 46 wins were the most in over a decade and they were in a prime position to make a long postseason run.
But then the playoffs began, and just days later, the Amerks players were packing up their bags and heading home for the summer baffled as to how a season which began with such promise would end with such disappointment.
“I’m still processing what just happened. Every morning I wake up and just can’t believe it,” a shocked Chris Taylor told the media on locker cleanout day following Rochester’s abrupt exit from the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“I’ve never met a group that was more disappointed than this group,” he continued. “No one had their head up in the room after the game. No one. It hurt really bad.”
WATCH: CHRIS TAYLOR ON LOCKER CLEANOUT DAY
After sitting comfortably either near or at the top of the North Division for most of the regular season, Taylor’s Amerks suffered a first-round sweep at the hands of the defending Calder Cup Champion Toronto Marlies in the best-of-five opening round series.
“We had a great regular season,” said assistant captain Nathan Paetsch, who captained his former team, the Grand Rapids Griffins, to two Calder Cups in five years prior to returning to Rochester for the 2017-18 season. “Unfortunately, things didn’t come together. Guys played hard, they played well, we had a lot of chances, and a bounce here, bounce there, but things just didn’t go our way.”
“As a group, we are really disappointed with how it ended,” echoed fellow defenseman Andrew MacWilliam, a six-year veteran and key component to the Amerks leadership core. “But we had a great year. I think we did a lot of great things, both individually and as a team, and it just didn’t carry over to playoffs, which is unfortunate.”
WATCH: NATHAN PAETSCH ON LOCKER CLEANOUT DAY
"Guys felt like they let the team down because they missed their opportunities off the crossbar, or empty nets, so that’s the tough part about it,” said Taylor. “But they didn’t let me down, they worked their butts off. They came every day and worked hard; they did an unbelievable job for our community. I told them I was really proud of all of them and the work that they did.”
The Amerks closed out the regular season with a 4-2 win in Belleville, capping the year with a second-place finish in the North Division and third overall in the American Hockey League with a 46-23-5-2 record and 99 points. Only the Charlotte Checkers and Syracuse Crunch finished with more wins and points than the Amerks, who earned points in eight of their final 11 games while outscoring the opposition 254-218 for the year.
“We had a great power-play and a great team, and when you get all that going it can make for a special year,” said AHL First Team All-Star selection and Eddie Shore Award winner Zach Redmond of the group he played alongside with this season.
WATCH: KEVIN PORTER ON LOCKER CLEANOUT DAY
One of the biggest contributors to the Amerks success was their strength on the road. At 25-9-3-1, the Amerks concluded the season with the best road record in the AHL, finishing one point ahead of the league-leading Charlotte Checkers. Rochester’s 25 road wins this season tied a franchise record originally set during the 1998-99 season and were the most in the AHL this season. The team also finished with the fewest regulation road losses with nine, having collected at least one point in 29 of their 38 contests away from The Blue Cross Arena.
And that’s not the only record that the Amerks reached this season.
Six different players reached the 20-goal mark by this season’s end, something Rochester hadn’t done since the 1996-97 campaign when the team had seven. After breaking the 46-year-old franchise record for goals by a defenseman, Redmond continued his record-setting season by becoming the first defenseman in team history to reach the 20-goal mark, while Victor Olofsson eclipsed the mark with his second-straight 27-goal season and forwards C.J. Smith, Taylor Leier, Danny O’Regan and Wayne Simpson joined the club as well. Rochester finished the regular season as the only AHL team with six different 20-goal scorers.
WATCH: ZACH REDMOND ON LOCKER CLEANOUT DAY
Victor Olofsson took his first season in North America by storm, leading the AHL in scoring through October before finishing the season as Rochester’s leader in goals (30), assists (33) and points (63) through 66 games with the Amerks. A seventh-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2014, Olofsson scored twice in a 4-3 loss at Syracuse on April 13, becoming the first Amerks skater to score 30 goals in a season since Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville both reached the mark during the 2004-05 campaign. Olofsson, who earned CCM/AHL Player of the Month honors for October, finished tied for eighth in the AHL in goals and 14th among the league’s top point-getters in overall scoring. Additionally, he ranked among the league leaders with 15 power-play assists while his nine game-winning goals, three of which have come in his last 14 games, tied for most in the AHL. Olofsson was rewarded with a late-season recall to the Buffalo Sabres, where he added four points on two goals and two assists in six games with the big club.
The American Hockey League also named Redmond the winner of the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s outstanding defenseman for the 2018-19 season. Redmond finished the 2018-19 regular season with career-best totals of 21 goals (tops among all AHL defensemen) and 50 points, along with a plus-13 rating in just 58 games for the Amerks, who finished with the fourth-best record in the AHL. He tied for the overall league lead with nine game-winning tallies and ranked first among blueliners with 10 power-play goals (tied) and 200 shots on goal.
Additionally, Taylor became the first bench boss to lead his team to the 40-win mark since Benoit Groulx (44) in the 2009-10 season. Earlier this season, Taylor reached the 30-win mark for the second straight year, becoming the first Amerks head coach to lead his team to 30 or more wins in each of his first two seasons behind the bench since Hall of Famer Randy Cunneyworth, the all-time winningest coach in franchise history.
WATCH: ANDREW MacWILLIAM ON LOCKER CLEANOUT DAY
“The regular season was great. It was a fun feeling going in every night, a feeling that we had a chance to win,” said Amerks netminder Scott Wedgewood, who started in net 48 times this season. “With the group, and the way we felt in the room every night, we had a chance to win even before we got on the ice. That’s a nice feeling as a goaltender, to trust in who you have around you.”
Wedgewood, who won 10 of his last 17 games, posted a career-best 28-14-2 record in 48 appearances this season. In addition to his 28 wins, which put him six off the league lead to end the regular season, the sixth-netminder recorded the third-most shutouts in the AHL with five, two of which came over a three-game span. Wedgewood, who previously won a season-long five straight to close out the month of October, also finished sixth in saves (1,195) while his 2.68 goals-against average and .908 save percentage both tied for 19th in the AHL, respectively. He became the first Amerks netminder to post five shutouts in a season since Ryan Miller had eight in 2004-05 and concluded the season just two wins shy of reaching the 30-win mark, a feat last accomplished by former two-time MVP David Leggio, who posted 38 victories during the 2012-13 campaign.
WATCH: SCOTT WEDGEWOOD ON LOCKER CLEANOUT DAY
“There were some tough times during the season, and I thought we responded really well,” said Taylor of this team’s resilience. “I loved the energy they brought every game. They were an exciting team. They came and worked hard every day. I have nothing to say but positive things about all the guys in that room. I had high expectations that we would still be playing, but there were a lot of great things during the year, and that’s the tough part.”
“It’s on me. Everything’s on me. I’ll protect my players; they played their hearts out and gave everything they could. I wish they would have executed on some plays, but it all comes down to me. I’ll take all the blame for why we’re out.”