By Erica Whyte (published on June 20, 2019)
Sometimes in hockey the most valuable member of a team stands behind the bench.
For the Rochester Americans, who have spent the last two seasons under the leadership of head coach Chris Taylor, this just might be the case.
Nearly 20 years ago, Taylor came to Rochester as a gritty forward for the 1999-2000 Amerks squad. He went from player, to captain and three-time MVP, to Amerks Hall of Famer before accepting the role as the franchise’s 32nd head coach.
In the two years since accepting the position, his accolades within the organization continue to mount.
Under Taylor’s guidance, the Amerks reached the 30-win mark for the second straight year, solidifying the Stratford, Ontario, native as 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 former mentor Randy Cunneyworth.
With Rochester’s 46-23-5-2 record during the 2018-19 season, Taylor also became the first bench boss to lead his team to the 40-win mark since Benoit Groulx (44) 2009-10, and this year’s playoff appearance marked the teams sixth in the last 10 seasons.
However, despite the Amerks’ on-ice successes, Taylor insists that their resilience and character were what he was most proud of this year.
“I like how we responded as a group,” he said on locker cleanout day. “There were some tough times in the season, and I thought we responded really well. I liked our character all throughout. I loved the energy they brought every game, they’re an exciting team.”
“They came and worked hard every day,” he continued, “I have nothing but positive things to say about all the guys in the room.”
An exciting team that is only improving as coach’s tenure continues.
WATCH: HC CHRIS TAYLOR YEAR-END INTERVIEW
Comparing the 2017-18 season to the 2018-19 slate, the Amerks improved in nearly every statistical category, including nine more wins, eight more standings points and scoring 20 more goals.
After failing to produce a 20-goal scorer last season for just the second time in franchise history, the Amerks had six different players to have reached the mark by the season’s end, something Rochester hasn’t done since the 1996-97 campaign.
The Amerks finished the season with a 25.0% success rate on the man-advantage away from The Blue Cross Arena, which finished second-best in the AHL, while 13 different players earned recalls to the Buffalo Sabres in 2018-19.
In fact, according to Taylor, player development was one thing he has focused on most in his second year as head coach.
“Every day, development is on the ice and off the ice,” he explained. “How they are feeling, what they are feeling, because they express a lot. It’s not just ‘come in and put on your equipment’ anymore. You’ve got to talk to them, see how everybody’s feeling, what they’re thinking about, how their confidence is, their mistakes, how to learn from their mistakes. There’s a lot of things that go into it.”
“I felt that a lot of guys did it the right way,” he continued of his team this season. “And you could see it in a lot of their games. I thought a lot of guys improved on the development side. Are they right there where we want them, yet? Obviously not. But they’re getting there. I’m very proud of our guys and how hard they worked this year to try to get better.”