Nov 11, 2022

By Suzie Cool


After the first few games of the Rochester Americans’ 2022-23 season, rookie forward Jiri Kulich was shocked at just how hard the American Hockey League is to play in.


“I was so surprised…how the league is so hard. I was so surprised, and I must improve my physical game,” said the rookie when asked what his first impressions of the AHL were. “Now, I think I'm better, like mentally, to play my game because the first six games I didn't score. It was hard for me.”


Since then, Kulich has made immense strides, posting eight points through his first 11 games of the season. Although Kulich’s first goal in North America came as an empty-netter, his second of the year was one to remember.



As a high-sticking infraction was nearing its completion in the first period against the Syracuse Crunch on Nov. 2, the Amerks used quick passing as every member of the power-play unit touched the puck before forward Brandon Biro centered a pass atop the zone for Amerks alternate captain Ethan Prow. As the veteran blueliner laid a perfect one-time pass to the right circle for Kulich, the rookie hammered it past Crunch netminder Maxime Lagace to break the scoreless game.


And a nice one-timer just happens to be Kulich’s favorite kind of shot.


“He's capable. He's got a great shot,” stated Amerks head coach Seth Appert when asked about Kulich’s second marker of the season.



Kulich is just 18 years old, meaning he’s one of the youngest, if not the youngest, player in the AHL right now and Appert knows that the rookie is in the midst of a major learning curve on what it takes to be a pro in North America at such a young age.


“What he's learning right now are the things that (former Amerks forward) Jack Quinn had to learn and (former Amerks forward) JJ Peterka had to learn. So, you got to keep going to the shooting room. You have to get your shot off quicker. Those are the things that make you great at goal-scoring along with the heaviness of it. So, he's learning all that stuff and it's a work in progress. We just got to stay on him and stay with him every day to try and make him a little bit better.”


This past summer, Kulich was draft by the Buffalo Sabres in the first-round (28th overall) of the 2022 NHL Draft and signed his three-year, entry-level NHL contract with the organization shortly after.



Prior to being drafted by the Sabres, Kulich spent most of the 2021-22 season with HC Energie Karlovy Vary of Czechia’s top pro league. As a 17-year-old, Kulich appeared in a career-high 49 games and registered 14 points on nine goals and five assists. Additionally, the Amerks rookie skated in three playoff contests while also notching four points on two goals and two assists in two games with HC Energie Karlovy Vary.


“I think everything,” explained Kulich when asked what he needs to dial in on to elevate his game to the level that he was playing at in the Czech league. “Skating and my physical game, and I must be smarter than when in the Czech League. So, yeah, I must have a faster shot.”


Kulich even admitted that the biggest difference for him in the pros in North America is just how focused he has to stay in order to continue to develop his game.



“I miss the Czech league because we had some fun on the ice and off the ice, but here I must just stay focused.”


While hockey is the main reason Kulich has made his way to Rochester, everything else the 18-year-old has had to take on hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates and the coaching staff in Rochester.


“He’s doing a really good job. I mean, I think when you when you really look at it, he's 18 years old. You know, he's away from home, living in another country. He's learning the language better. There's a lot on his plate,” commented Appert when asked how he feels Kulich has taken the first month of play in the AHL.


“We really like what he's doing. He's getting better, week to week. His practice habits, his competitiveness, his play away from the puck is improving. His play with the puck is very, very good and that's why he was a first-round draft pick. Then you get to this level and the play away from the puck and how competitive you need to be, how much your back checking and winning puck battles and all the little details that make you a great player instead of just a talented player. He's improving in all those areas.”



Appert then finished with, “I think if you would've said that a month in (into the 2022-23 season), he's almost a point per game, he's playing 15 minutes a night, he’s on special teams, he's got an apartment, he’s set up for a living, all of that stuff matters to setting yourself up for success. So, he's off to a very good start. We're very happy with where he's at right now.”


Kulich and the Amerks continue their busy three-game 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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