At the beginning of the Rochester Americans 64th American Hockey League season, things seemed to be “business as usual” with head coach Chris Taylor heading into his third year behind the bench. However, after a week of training camp underway and the Amerks first game of the 2019-20 season just four days away, there was a sudden change in the initial game plan to start off the new campaign.
The Buffalo Sabres released earlier this season the conditions as to why an immediate coaching change was needed to take place just days before both the Sabres and Amerks opened their respective seasons.
“Buffalo Sabres Assistant Coach Don Granato has been hospitalized with severe pneumonia and will be taking a medical leave from the team.”
Following the Oct. 1 announcement, the immediate changes were made. Taylor got the call-up to the National Hockey League and served as Buffalo’s interim assistant coach while Gord Dineen assumed the head coaching duties in Rochester. Additionally, Sabres development coach Adam Mair was added to the Amerks coaching staff for the beginning of their regular season.
A close-knit organization from top to bottom, there was no question as to what needed to be done in order to make this abrupt transition as smooth as possible. In Granato’s time of need, many helped fill the gap created by his absence, and now 56 days later everyone has finally returned to their respective positions without missing a beat, and most importantly, with Granato in good health.
“We are a family. We do things together and we support each other. When one of our family members became ill in Buffalo, no one batted an eyelash about doing what was required to do to support the organization and support each other,” stated Amerks general manager Randy Sexton when addressing the media about Taylor’s return earlier this week.
Support and continuity were exactly what was needed from every angle in the Buffalo organization over the last two months, and more specifically, for the team here in Rochester. After losing their head coach, it seemed almost surprising that things still remained “business as usual” when Dineen took over, but it really shouldn’t be shocking at all.
Dineen has extensive National Hockey League experience, playing 18 years professionally and most of that time was at the highest level. And, no, Dineen wasn’t new to the coaching game either. This season marks the assistant coach’s 18th year on a coaching staff and his third in the Flower City. To top it off, Dineen had an eight-year stint with the Toronto Marlies and during their 2014-15 campaign, he helped lead the team to a 40-27-9 overall record, good for second place in the AHL’s North Division and a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Following his return, Taylor immediately made sure to take the time to acknowledge and thank Dineen for the work that the assistant coach put in behind the bench during his absence.
“First and foremost, we’re great friends. When I hired Gord, you know, I knew that he was something that I needed, especially as a first-time head coach. He’s been unbelievable to me and what he’s done here, he’s continued on the same process that we started two years ago. It’s great.”
WATCH: HC CHRIS TAYLOR POST SKATE INTERVIEW
The Amerks are now 18 games into their season and Dineen has helped lead the team to a 12-3-1-2 record over the last two months.
As of Monday, Taylor returned to his head coaching responsibilities with the Amerks and Friday night will be his first game back at The Blue Cross Arena since their 2018-19 Calder Cup Playoffs run. Taylor is no stranger to Rochester as he’s spent 14 seasons here as a player and a coach, and over his last two seasons behind the bench, he’s compiled an overall 83-61-8 record while leading his team to consecutive playoff appearances.
Going into Friday the pressure will be on as Taylor’s first game back will be amidst Rochester’s current five-game win streak. But due to the double duty he pulled while up in the NHL, Sexton is more than confident that the transition back to the “old normal” will be just as seamless as the team has already seen earlier this season.
“He really did double duty, even though we asked him not too. In Buffalo, he was staying up and watching the Amerks games and he was in constant contact with Gord and the coaches. There was great continuity during the time that he was away. All the drills, the nomenclature, the terminology, everything has stayed the same.”
After countless nights of pulling double-duty, time away from his family and countless drives up and down I-90, Taylor is back in the Flower city and more than ready to finally embark on his third season as the Amerks head coach. Before he can completely take back the reins, though, Taylor knows that he has some catching up to do and that he needs to try and continue on what these guys have already started.
“You’re not going to know everything about what goes on. Interacting with the guys again and going over practices, we use the same practice plans and everything’s the same. So, we’re just continuing to get caught up a little bit here and continuing what these guys have started here,” commented Taylor when asked about just how much catching up he needs to do upon his return.
Overall, Taylor is more than excited to be back in his normal position as head coach of the Amerks, just the 12th former Amerk to be named head coach and the 32nd overall in the 64-year history of the franchise. He loves this job and the continuity between the entire Buffalo organization has made this time just as seamless for him as it has been for everyone else.
Don’t worry, coach, we’re happy to have you back, too. Now let’s keep things rolling.