TACO BELL WRAP-UP: LEVI MAKES IMPACT IN AMERKS DEBUTDec 4, 2023
By Andrew Mossbrooks | @Mossbrooks48
The Rochester Americans (11-6-2-0) began the month of December with a two-game split in Belleville. Aleksandr Kisakov scored the game-winning shootout goal in a 3-2 victory Friday, before the Senators bounced back with a 4-2 decision the next night.
All eyes were on No. 27 in goal for the Amerks this past weekend as Sabres prospect Devon Levi made his AHL debut Friday night. The 21-year-old did not disappoint, recording 40 saves in regulation plus overtime, then turning away all four Senators he faced in the shootout to help Rochester prevail for a 3-2 win.
Levi was most impressive in the third period of Friday’s game, where the rookie goaltender faced 18 Belleville shots and stopped all of them. The next night, Levi posted 30 saves in a 4-2 loss, but finished his first weekend as an Amerk with an impressive 70 saves on 76 shots, recording a .921 save percentage through his first two starts. His 40 saves on Friday were his most as a pro. His previous career-high was 34 in his second NHL game last year with Buffalo against Florida.
“Winning is part of development,” said Amerks head coach Seth Appert ahead of the games in Belleville. “It had to start in Rochester and it’s transitioned to Buffalo. As a goaltender, that’s something I’ve always looked for. Do they drive their team to win? He (Levi) has had massive success on the international stage and in college winning Beanpots for Northeastern. You take real confidence that you delivered for your team in pressure-packed moments. Those are things that are hard to replicate.”
“To be able to play here and focus more on myself and my development is a key part of my game,” said Levi last Wednesday. “I think that every day is an opportunity to learn. There are some really good players here that will help me learn. It’s a really good situation.”
KULICH DOING KULICH THINGS
The Sabres and Amerks have had one another on speed dial of late, exchanging players back and forth numerous times over the first several weeks of the season.
Just before the team bussed to Belleville on Thursday, the phone rang again with the news that forward Jiri Kulich would be reassigned to the Amerks after making his NHL debut the previous weekend. The 19-year-old flashed his brilliance Saturday, scoring two goals, including a power-play conversion to start the game in the first period.
Kulich has 13 goals through 18 games: far and away the most on the Amerks. He sits in a tie for second-most goals scoring in the AHL. His three game-winning-goals have all come in overtime, mostly off his signature one-timer from the right side, and his four power-play tallies are tied for eighth in the league.
“It’s a dangerous weapon,” said Appert in November when asked about Kulich’s shot. “I don’t think shooters get enough credit for the amount of work they put into their shot. Jiri Kulich puts in countless hours after practice, before practice, in the shooting room, and back home in the Czech to hone in on that shot. It’s not just something that’s a gift that’s given to him. It’s a gift that he’s acquired through a lot of hard work.”
Taking penalties didn’t cost the Amerks a game over the weekend. That said, it didn’t help, either. Rochester was on the penalty kill 12 times over its two-game stint at CAA Arena. Include the previous week’s game in Lehigh Valley and the Amerks were shorthanded a staggering 17 times across this three-game road swing.
Belleville went 1-for-8 on Friday, then scored once on five power-play opportunities Saturday.
It was an atypical weekend for Appert’s team, with Rochester being one of the least penalized squads in the AHL (231-20th). The team sits fourth in penalty minutes amongst its North Division counterparts, with a large gap between themselves and the top three consisting of Toronto (297), Syracuse (305), and Laval (330), yet Rochester’s penalty kill ranks the lowest (73.7%).
For the first time this season, the Amerks have just one game on their schedule for the week as they’ll entertain Charlotte (10-9-0-0) this Friday at Blue Cross Arena for Youth Hockey Night. The only other week Rochester is slated to play just once is the final week of the season, where the team will take on Utica for a Sunday matinee, though a playoff berth could see the Amerks play postseason hockey later that week.