AMERKS MAKING MOST OF OPPORTUNITIES THIS SEASONApr 28, 2021
By Ryan J. Harr
As April is nearing its end, the Rochester Americans are looking to snap their season-long six-game winless streak beginning on Friday, April 30 when they head to the Adirondack Bank Center to meet up with the Utica Comets. Following the 7:00 p.m. matchup, the club will make its final trip of the campaign to Upstate University Medical Arena as they face-off with the Syracuse Crunch at 7:00 p.m. to start the final month of the season.
The Amerks return home to The Blue Cross Arena on Monday, May 3 to wrap up a three-game-in-four-night stretch when the Comets come to town for a 7:05 p.m. puck drop.
Veterans Leaders Leading the Way
Unable to earn recalls to the Buffalo Sabres this season merely due to their contract status, veteran forwards Michael Mersch and Remi Elie have certainly made their most time in the Flower City.
“Our older guys like Mersch, Dalton Smith, C.J. Smith, and some of our other leaders, have done a great job setting the tone,” said Amerks head coach Seth Appert. “Our young guys have also bought in and been really energized as well. Our guys have completely bought in from day one in early January. They have taken advantage of every day to get better and have competed and battled every day.”
With his game-tying goal on Saturday, Mersch has tallied nine points (5+4) over his last seven outings, including a season-high four-point effort on Friday, April 23 with a pair of goals and two assists. It was Mersch’s best single-game performance since a career-best five-point effort (3+2) back on March 27, 2015, the very same year he’d lead the Manchester Monarchs to the Calder Cup.
Elie, meanwhile, has a point streak of four games with four markers and a pair of helpers. With 17 points on the season (9+8), Elie has grabbed the team-lead in both points and goals while Mersch is second on the club in both categories.
“While every player wants to showcase themselves and their abilities, they have been all about the team-first. We established our culture of winning and how we want to work early on, and it was laid out by our older group, and now you can see that translating with our young guys having the success with the Sabres,” said Appert.
In his fourth season with the Amerks, C.J. Smith, who has been shuffled between the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester, has totaled 11 points (3+8) in 10 games in this season, including eight points (1+7) in his last seven appearances.
WATCH: SETH APPERT AFTER TUESDAY’S PRACTICE
DeSimone’s Fresh Start
Early last week, the Vegas Golden Knights (NHL) loaned defenseman Nick DeSimone to the Amerks. After completing his quarantine requirements, the native of nearby East Amherst made his debut with his new team on Saturday night in Syracuse.
The 26-year-old, despite only joining his teammates for an optional morning skate before the game against the Crunch, led the team with a pair of assists. DeSimone, prior to being traded to the Golden Knights, appeared in 14 games with the San Jose Barracuda (AHL) to begin the season, recording five assists during that time.
Including his season debut with Rochester over the weekend, the fifth-year pro has produced 93 points (26+67) in 191 career AHL games with the Barracuda and Amerks.
His arrival adds another veteran presence to a relatively young Amerks blueline and offers a little more stability on the back end as well.
“I thought him coming off a week of quarantine and not practicing, he did a really good job,” Appert said. “It was nice to have another veteran on the backend, the way he breaks the puck out and he how he plays.”
“It is a hard league to play in and we are a young team,” DeSimone said. “I have been around for a while and I can bring that veteran experience. My game is a simple game, I am a good skater and play defense but whenever there is chance to jump into offense, I try to make the most of that.”
Playing now in the not only the Eastern time zone, but also in the same state as his friends and family, DeSimone, who is a free agent following this season, he is excited about the fresh start with a new organization, but also for the opportunity to play in front of new eyes.
“It is very exciting,” said DeSimone. “My parents were happy to hear the news despite not being able to come to the games. Beginning my career in San Jose, they were watching the games at 10 p.m. and it’s nice to be closer to home as I have been so far away in the past.”
Being one of the new guys on a team is never easy, but the hockey world is always so small and there are connections everywhere. DeSimone’s case is no different. The 6-foot-2, 185-blueliner completed a three-year collegiate career at Union College (ECAC) from 2014-2017. He spent a year with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres and played his youth hockey in the Buffalo area.
“I played with Ryan Scarfo all three of my years in college,” DeSimone explained. “He and I were close friends during our time together. I grew up playing against Patrick Polino and Dylan Blujus as they all are from around the Buffalo area. I skated with C.J. Smith, Griffin Luce and ‘Blue’ in the summer in Buffalo, I knew Brandon Hawkins as he was the same age when he attended Michigan.”
WATCH: NICK DESIMONE AFTER TUESDAY’S PRACTICE
Newcomers Making Immediate Impact
In his first season in the American Hockey League, 25-year-old forward Dominic Franco, who had just one assist through his first seven games as a professional, has become the regular point-getter he once was while at Army West Point.
The first-year forward had an assist on Rochester’s first goal of the season and then was held off the scoresheet for the next six games. Since April 3, the Portsmouth, Rhode Island, native has recorded has seven points (4+3) in his last nine games, including three straight games with at least one point.
“This year more than ever, this league is about developing and showing that you belong in the second-best league in the world,” Appert explained. “Sometimes guys get called up or sign PTO’s and they do not get many minutes or are the backup goaltender. Our guys this season are getting significant playing time and now they have eight more games to show they can do on it a consistent night.”
“That consistency is what separates really good players as they can bring it every single night.”
Much like Franco’s success of late, Brent Gates, Jr., Brendan Warren and Brandon Hawkins also have made an impact since joining the team over the last two weeks.
All three players lit the lamp on April 21 in Rochester’s 7-6 loss against Syracuse and all three have recorded over a point-per-game since.
On the Amerks’ first goal of the game in Syracuse this past Saturday, Gates, Jr. and Hawkins set up Elie’s ninth goal of the season. The primary helper from Gates, Jr. gives him four points (1+3) in his last three games while Hawkins earned his third point (1+2) in his first three games since joining the club back on April 20.
After registering a pair of tallies in his first two appearances, including his first AHL shorthanded goal, Warren earned a helper on Saturday for his third point in as many games.
The Amerks begin a busy three-game week as they face the Comets at the Adirondack Bank Center on Friday, April 30. Following the 7:00 p.m. contest, Rochester will open May with their final trip of the season to Downtown Syracuse on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.
Rochester will conclude the week with a rare Monday home game on May 3 as Utica returns to the Flower City for a 7:05 p.m. puck drop. The contest will be the first Monday game between the two clubs in the Blue Cross since Jan. 15, 2018.
All of the action will be carried live on The Sports Leader AM 950/95.7 FM ESPN Rochester as well as AHLTV.