By Suzie Cool (@SuzKewl) | Published on September 4, 2020
A lot of people fear change. It’s human nature.
Whether it’s getting a new haircut and hoping for approval from your friends. Maybe you’re moving to a new town and you have no idea if you’ll enjoy the area you’re now deciding to reside in. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re taking on a brand-new job where the expectations are set at an all-time high because the person before you just happened to be pretty great at their job, but things just didn’t pan out as expected.
The one factor that all of these things have in common – the unknown that comes after each decision made.
But let’s take a look at that very last scenario. It’s probably an all-too-familiar feeling for a lot of you here in Rochester currently, considering the success the Amerks had in the three seasons under former head coach Chris Taylor.
But as one door closes, another opens and that, too, is also exciting.
WATCH: SETH APPERT INTRODUCTORY PRESS CONFERENCE
Rochester has one of the most passionate fan bases in the American Hockey League with a rich history that spans 64 years. In that time, you can probably recall almost every new head coach, players that have made their mark and broke franchise records, the 16 times that the Amerks have played for the Calder Cup and the six times that they’ve come home victorious and brought the cup right here to Rochester.
A lot of historic moments and people that have made the Amerks organization exactly what it is to this day almost 65 seasons later.
Some of you probably remember exactly where you were when the Amerks were led by fiery head coach John Tortorella and were crowned champions back on June 13, 1996.
Maybe you were one of the lucky fans that got to attend a packed War Memorial for Game 7 of the Calder Cup Final when Rochester faced off against the Portland Pirates. In a winner-take-all showdown here in the Flower City, the contest was tied at 1-1 early in the third period before Amerks forward Brian Holzinger broke the deadlock as he converted on his own rebound from the left face-off dot to put the Amerks on top 2-1 in what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Rochester then played shutdown mode for the remaining 17:26 before a massive celebration took place on the War Memorial ice, where fans and players alike shared in the moment that is still viewed by many as one of the best in franchise history.
Or we could even backtrack a little further to the 1987 Amerks squad headed by John Van Boxmeer, where their Game 7 Final marked the first in history since 1963.
Do you remember where you were when the series between the Amerks and the Sherbrooke Canadiens was tied at three apiece headed into the game back on May 23, 1987? If you don’t recall exactly what happened, luckily, we’re here to refresh your memory.
Rochester opened up the first period of play with goals from Ray Sheppard and Jason Meyers, two unlikely heroes that played just three games during the regular season. Sherbrooke eventually came back to cut the deficit in half and then made a late push in the contest, but not before Gates Orlando scored the eventual game-winner on the power-play. And, of course, I’m sure you all remember Jody Gage adding his team-leading 14th goal of the playoffs to tie an AHL record.
Or we could simply take you back to just this past season that ended quite abruptly at The Blue Cross Arena back on March 11.
The Amerks were just coming off of a weekend sweep north of the border against the first place Belleville Senators as they headed into their matchup against the Binghamton Devils on this particular Wednesday night. This game marked the ninth matchup of the season between the two clubs and unfortunately momentum wasn’t in the Amerks favor from the weekend prior.
Binghamton would bring it home 5-2 to keep the season series in its favor thanks to a three-goal final stanza, but the Amerks would still hold second place in the North Division and just six points behind Belleville in the standings.
WATCH: SETH APPERT ADDRESSES THE ROCHESTER MEDIA
Now this doesn’t seem like such a historic moment when we look at the final box score or we recall the eventual outcome of that night. But not even 24 hours after this contest ended, the Rochester’s 64th season in the AHL would come to a screeching halt and eventually would be canceled almost two months after the fact. The Amerks ended their 2019-20 campaign with a 33-20-4-5 overall record, good for second place in the North Division and they were looking to embark on their third consecutive playoff run in as many seasons under Taylor.
As we take a look back at all three of these historical moments in franchise history, all three are different in their own perspective.
In 1996, Rochester won a Calder Cup Championship in a nail-biting 2-1 victory in a packed War Memorial. Flashback further to 1987 and the Amerks were forced to travel to Sherbrooke for the first Game 7 Final in history since 1963. Or take a look at just six months ago when we all thought that there were still seven more home games in the 2019-20 campaign before the COVID-19 pandemic iced another 30-win season. Or we can even go back to the early years of the franchise when legendary head coach Joe Crozier oversaw an Amerks dynasty in the 1960s, leading the team to four straight Calder Cup appearances and winning three of them between 1965 and 1968.
All different, but one thing is common denominator for each of these scenarios: despite the wins, the guy behind the bench was someone different in each of these historic events.
Think about it.
There have been 32 different head coaches for the Amerks dating back to the team;s inception in 1956. Of those 32, only three have held that position with the organization for more than five years (Crozier, Van Boxmeer, Randy Cunneyworth), four have brought home the Calder Cup (Cozier, Mike Keenan, Van Boxmeer, Tortorella) and only one has won multiple Calder Cup Championships during his helm (Cozier).
Cunneyworth was the Amerks head coach from 2000-08 and then for one more season back in 2015-16. After playing parts of seven seasons in Rochester, Cunneyworth went on to become the most winningest in franchise history with 340 career coaching victories. He officially surpassed Van Boxmeer for the mark with his 338th win back on March 23, 2016 against the St. John’s Ice Caps.
To this day, Cunneyworth is the head coach with the most time spent here in Rochester after nine total seasons behind the bench for the franchise. And again, that probably made it pretty scary for the fans in the Flower City to see who could possibly follow in his footsteps.
Nonetheless, we don’t have the time to cover all 32 of these individuals but we can take the time to agree that they all brought something different to the table and had remarkable moments that made their careers worth noting.
But, the thing worth noting the most, the fact that not one of them can truly ever replace another.
There will never be another Cozier, the first coach in franchise history to have multiple Calder Cup championships under his belt. Never will there be another Cunneyworth, who collectively compiled over 1,000 career games as a player and a coach. And, no, there won’t be another Taylor who proved to be a threat whether he was on the ice or behind the bench and remained the Amerks leader through the first couple of months of a worldwide pandemic.
WATCH: THE MOMENT SETH APPERT BECOMES AMERKS HEAD COACH
And that’s the great thing about the past. It’s something we can always look back to and honor. That’s the best part about all of this, though, is the same can also be said about the future. It’s something we can look ahead to.
It’s not about trying to replace any of the Amerks greats from the past, but more so moving on in a different direction and turning the page to the 33rd chapter in this Amerks novel with a new face leading the charge in Seth Appert.
And Appert is the first to admit that this change we speak of is a very scary thing.
“Change is scary, right?” said Appert. “And I’ll be the first to admit, Chris Taylor is a very good coach and he did a very good job and I’m not coming in and trying to replace him. I’m coming in to be the best version of Seth Appert for the Sabres organization and for the Rochester Americans.”
Back on Aug. 18, the organization officially announced the appointment of Appert as the 33rd head coach in Amerks history.
Uncertainty then sank in.
Here’s the thing, though. There’s a true beauty in the unknown as we wait to see Appert in action come December. What we do know, however, is that Appert has a proven track record of developing players in his 20-plus years of coaching, including several former Amerks and a record 17 NHL Draft picks in 2019.
And, yes, that’s correct. More than 20 years of coaching and developing players into the best athletes and humans that they can become.
Appert’s coaching career began while he was still attending Ferris State University as a fifth-year senior back during the Bulldogs’ 1996-97 season. It was that same year that proved to be extremely impactful as to what Appert’s next move would be career wise.
“That year was incredibly impactful for my career. I learned a ton from Bob Daniels, from Drew Famulak and Jamie Russell. All three of them I still have relationships with to this day,” stated the Amerks head coach when reminiscing on his first gig behind the bench. “I don’t know how much I really helped them that year, but I do know that they helped me fall in love with coaching and get the assistant coaching job at the University of Denver.”
From Ferris State University and on, Appert hit the ground running, taking his next coaching gig right out of the gate at the University of Denver. Appert became the assistant coach of the Pioneers at the beginning of the 1997-98 season and went on to be a part of their organization for the next nine years.
WATCH: SETH APPERT 1-ON-1 WITH SUZIE COOL
The unique quality about Appert’s first full-time coaching job out of college was that he was pretty much the same age as some of the guys that he was teaching. And, again, Appert can admit that he didn’t bring years of knowledge at that point in time, but he did bring the quality of being able to relate with the guys out on the ice by the way he translated head coach George Gwozdecky’s overall message.
“I think early on what I did for the program was relationship building with the players. I didn’t have an extensive background or knowledge of the art and the skill of coaching, but I did understand people and I was relatively their same age.”
Appert went on to help the Pioneers win back-to-back NCAA National Championships in 2004 and 2005, as well as three WCHA playoff championships and two WCHA regular season titles after nine years at the university. And in turn, this nine-year tenure helped propel the Amerks newcomer to his next position in the collegiate coaching circuit as the new head coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
From the outside looking in, we all may think that the transition from assistant to head coach would be smooth. But, according to Appert, there’s actually a major difference in the daily duties when it comes to these different positions.
“When I sat in that chair for the first time, I realized that there were a lot of things that George Gwozdecky did that I didn’t even realize.”
That didn’t stop Appert, though, as he embarked on an 11-year career at RPI and ramped up some of his best accolades during the middle of his tenure there. In 2011, Appert guided the team to an appearance in the 2011 NCAA tournament following a 20-win season before leading RPI to its best finish in more than two decades just two years later with a second-place finish in the ECAC standings.
As all good things eventually come to an end, Appert’s time at RPI came to a close in March of 2017, which led him to overcome adversity and find a new love for the game.
“I believe, having gone through this, that adversity fuels growth and there’s hardly much more adversity that you can face than getting fired,” remarked Appert. “We were really proud of what we built at RPI, but over those last three years, I wasn’t really proud of how we did things and the coach that I wanted to be. I lost a little bit of my sense of why I coach and what I’m great at.”
Only 24 hours ticked by until Appert’s next opportunity came knocking on the door, thus confirming the old adage of making some lemonade out of a situation that handed him some major lemons. Instead of making excuses for himself, Appert owned up for the mistakes he had made while at RPI and used that adversity to fuel his future growth.
“When you have those moments in your life you can either make excuses and say, ‘Woe is me,’ and feel sorry for yourself, which to me is a useless emotion. Or you can pull yourself up, you can look in the mirror, you can own the mistakes you made, you can learn from the mistakes you made and the adversity you were in and you use that to fuel your future growth.”
That future growth that Appert speaks of just happened to be helping develop some of the best talent in the country with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program for the past three seasons, alternating duties between the Under-18 and Under-17 Teams.
During his first season with the NTDP back in 2017-18, Appert guided the Under-18 Team to a gold medal at the Five Nations Tournament. The team also finished the season with an Eastern Conference-best 41-18-0-1 record, the team’s best finish since joining the United States Hockey League.
That’s just the first of three full impressive seasons with the NTPD, not to mention two prior stints in 2008 and 2011. But Appert feels his biggest accomplishments seemed not to be what he brought home to hang on the wall, but how he developed these athletes into the players that they needed to become.
“The best moments, the most rewarding moments are those lightbulb moments when you see a player and it clicks in a player’s mind of the player he’s trying to become and he starts to take ownership of that identity, instead of relying on the player that he used to be.”
In 2018, Appert then went on to lead the U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team to a silver medal at the IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship. Not to mention, the year prior he helped guide Team USA to a gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship as an assistant coach and served as an assistant coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team at the 2017 IIHF Men’s World Championship.
Again, a lot of medals to take away from just three years in an organization that helps develop some of the best talent in the country and that doesn’t even come close to covering all of the other honors that Appert helped players achieve over his more than two decades behind the bench.
At the collegiate level, Appert aided in the development of 13 All-Americans, 37 all-league selections, four Players of the Year, four Hobey Baker Finalists and at least 23 players who have graduated to the NHL, including former Amerks Erik Burgdoerfer, Jerry D’Amigo and Jason Kasdorf.
D’Amigo played one season under Appert at RPI in 2009-10, ranking fifth in the nation in points per game while leading the team in game-winning goals. In his lone season at RPI, D’Amigo was named the ECAC Rookie of the Year and was named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team. Kasdorf, meanwhile, played four years under Appert at RPI, earning ECAC Rookie of the Year and All-ECAC Second Team honors as a freshman during the 2012-13 season. Both he and Burgdoerfer would make their NHL debuts with the Buffalo Sabres.
Those three guys, and all the other athletes that have come through his various programs, are exactly why Appert coaches how he does – to help develop them into the successful players that they become on the ice and the men they become in their everyday lives.
“That’s what coaching is about. It’s about building these relationships. My favorite thing, especially in college and even now, is hearing from former players and they call or they text you and they tell you they’re getting called up for their first NHL game or they invite you to their wedding.”
With that being said, it should come as no surprise that when Appert got the official offer from Buffalo Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams, his initial thought was to thank the players that he’s been able to coach. Appert truly feels that he has been presented with the opportunity here in Rochester because of who his past players were and who they have become.
“It was almost surreal. I think the first thing that came to mind was all of the great players that I got to coach and helped me get to this spot.”
Not to mention, Appert is extremely grateful and thankful that, from top to bottom, the entire Sabres organization has the faith in him to take on this new position during this next chapter of his career.
“I’m extremely grateful that Kevyn Adams, Ralph Krueger and Terry and Kim Pegula have the faith and belief in me to give me this opportunity to lead Rochester and help develop prospects for the Sabres.”
Nonetheless, as Appert is excited to meet and work with his new roster here in Rochester, he’s most excited to dive into his new role and meet each and every one of you at home come the 2020-21 season at The Blue Cross Arena.
“I’m just really excited to be here and I’m really excited to get to work with the Sabres and with the Americans,” expressed the Amerks new head coach. “I can’t wait to finally get a chance to meet everybody in person that works for the Americans and I can’t wait to meet the fans because I know what a great and a passionate fanbase we have. Those are the things I’m most excited about and I’m looking forward to getting after it with everybody.”
On the surface, Appert is not a guy with multiple Calder Cup championships – at least not yet. Appert also isn’t a guy that has yet to get over 1,000 collective games with just one organization. And, no, Appert doesn’t know what it’s like to lace up the skates and take the ice on the professional stage.
But, who knows, maybe Appert will go on to coach your Amerks to multiple Calder Cup championships. Or he could quite possibly remain with the Sabres organization long enough that he’s behind the bench for over 1,000 games with the Amerks. And although he can’t lace up his skates, he’ll still be able to suit up each and every game at the professional level behind the bench, which is a dream come true. Maybe there’s also that slim chance we’ll need him as a backup goalie one night.
That’s the true beauty in the unknown, right? So many possibilities as to what could be.
What we do know is the fact that Appert has more than 20 years of coaching at the collegiate level. He’s coached four Hobey Baker finalists and has helped 23 players graduate to play in the NHL. And the list goes on and on.
Simply put, there’s something that we have never seen here in Rochester before and that being Seth Appert himself.
Here’s to not forgetting about the greats from the past and to remembering what they all made possible before we knew it could have ever been done. And, here’s to Seth Appert, the 33rd head coach in franchise history, and all of those that came before him that gave us years of memories and making us more than ready for what’s to come.
So, let’s stop fearing change, Amerks fans, and this time give it an unknown chance.