Nov 11, 2022

By Suzie Cool


In the first month of the 2022-23 American Hockey League season, the Rochester Americans used 11 different defensemen. At the time, that number of blueliners was tied for most used by a team in the league alongside the Cleveland Monsters and has only continued to grow.


The defensive unit originally consisted of five players who had seen time in the National Hockey League and three others that played ample minutes with Rochester in the regular season and playoffs in 2021-22. Now, the Amerks defensive core is a little bit of a different story, yet one the team is familiar with due to an all-too-similar situation last season.


“I think there's a lot of similarities. It's still not as bad as the COVID year, that was a little bit more exciting, but obviously last year it happened a little later in the season,” said Amerks assistant coach Mike Weber when asked if he was having déjà vu from last year. “Midway through our season we were scrambling a little bit but, again, that's the exciting part about being a coach in the American Hockey League.”


Amerks defenseman Mitch Eliot added, “I remember when it all went down, when our lineup was depleted for what seemed like 45 to 60 days last year. I hadn’t played for 10 of them, but even when I came back and I got healthy again, we still had a depleted lineup. I think we're a little bit better equipped for it this year.”


After the first three games of the season for Rochester, that’s when the call-ups and injuries began.



Defenseman Lawrence Pilut was summoned by the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 20 before defensemen Peter Tischke and Chase Priskie were sidelined with injuries the following weekend. Blueliner Kale Clague shortly followed Pilut to Buffalo the very next week, leaving Rochester with literally four healthy defensemen in Jeremy DaviesEthan ProwOskari Laaksonen and Mitch Eliot as they were headed north of the border to take on the Laval Rocket in a back-to-back set during the last weekend in October.


Rochester was then left with just four defensemen going into the final set of games in October, meaning that Rochester needed to make moves and they needed to make them fast. So, that Wednesday, the team brought up defenseman Zach Berzolla from the Cincinnati Cyclones before making two major additions in veterans Brandon Davidson and Mark Bartkowski, both of whom were signed to professional tryouts.


About a week later, defenseman Riese Zmolek was signed to a professional tryout with Rochester before Laaksonen suffered an upper-body injury against the Utica Comets last Friday and Davies was reassigned to the Amerks prior to Wednesday’s game against the Syracuse Crunch.


Now, that’s a lot of moves and a lot of different pieces to the puzzle that all have to fall into place for the blueline to continue to be as lethal as it was to start off the 2022-23 campaign. However, as chaotic as all this scrambling of the back-end seems, it’s made room for opportunity for some.


The perfect example? Mitch Eliot.


 “I think it's a good opportunity for guys like myself who started the year on the outside because our D core was so deep and so good to start the year,” commented Eliot when asked how the team has faced the ever-changing rotation the blueline has already seen this season.


Over the summer, Eliot re-signed a one-year AHL contract with Rochester after appearing in 51 games with the team in 2021-22. During that span, Eliot posted 10 points on three goals and seven assists while skating in four contests in the postseason during Rochester’s run to the North Division finals.


Eliot continued about how the opportunity this year gives him even more of a chance to play a bigger role for the Amerks.


“Just a bigger role for the time being and more ice time. You know, for guys like me, it just gives us a chance to kind of show how we can take on bigger roles if needed and contribute in ways that maybe we wouldn't if other guys were healthy. So yeah, it's a great chance for us.”


The role that Eliot has immersed himself in this season has caught the attention of Weber and the rest of the coaching staff.


“He put the work in and when he got the opportunity, he's been great, and he's played really solid. He's in every game. His minutes have gone up. So, it's a credit to him as a person and a player and, again, I'm happy for his success and there's still some things that he's going to continue to build on,” said Weber when asked how Eliot has taken advantage of the opportunities he’s been given this year.


Eliot and the Amerks continue their busy three-game week tonight when they welcome the Cleveland Monsters back for a 7:05 p.m. North Division showdown at The Blue Cross Arena. Rochester then wraps up their week of action with a road game against the Belleville Senators on Saturday with a 7:05 p.m. puck drop. All the action will be carried live on 95.7 FM/950 AM The Fan Rochester as well as AHLTV.

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