Friday night was hockey night in Rochester, which featured the Americans opening up their 61st season, playing host to the Hershey Bears.
Friday was not only a big night for the Americans but also for forward prospect Nicholas Baptiste.
With the injury to Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane on Thursday night, it was known that one roster spot would be open for the taking and it was no secret to the Americans players.
“You see it but you still gotta play the game,” said forward Cole Schneider, who tallied 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) on Friday night. “You try not to focus on it too much.”
Many fans expected forward Justin Bailey to be the sure-fire call up, but following a lackluster training camp this year, it appears as if Bailey will be given a little extra time to grow in Rochester.
From the drop of the opening faceoff on Friday, it was evident that Nicholas Baptiste was going to be a handful for the Hershey Bears. It is no overreach when it is said that Baptiste was all over the ice. Baptiste’s speed and ability to play in all situations was evident and hard to look past.
In his second professional season, Baptiste was expected to spend some time in Rochester to obtain some much needed seasoning but after 14 goals in 63 professional games, the Buffalo Sabres are ready to take a look at Baptiste.
“I’m really excited,” Baptiste said to Democrat and Chronicle’s Kevin Oklobzija. “I’m not even sure it has sunk in yet. It was obviously in the back of my head but regardless of the call-up, I just wanted to ge the season off the right way.”
Baptiste is likely to be in Sunday night’s lineup, when the Buffalo Sabres head to Rogers Place to take on Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.
When the final horn sounded, it would be Rochester with the 5-4 victory but the Americans certainly have their lucky stars to thank for being able to pull out a victory.
“Feels great, nice to get the first one out of the way,” Amerks coach Dan Lambert said after his first AHL coaching victory. “Thought guys played hard and competed.”
One of the more concerning stats of the first game was the large difference in shots on goal, which Hershey ended up 29 shots to Rochester’s 12.
“There is no doubt they’re (Hershey) a good hockey team,” Lambert said. “They’ve had success but they were pressing hard when they got down. Shots aren’t always telling, we did spend some time in the d-zone but felt a lot of those shots were coming from the outside.”
Dan Lambert wasn’t the only person making his Rochester debut last night. Buffalo Sabres 2016 first-round pick Alexander Nylander also made his professional debut at the Blue Cross Arena on Friday.
Nylander found himself with a power play assist just 45 seconds into the game, after a nice shot on goal from the point found the stick of a waiting Cole Schneider. Nylander would show some growing pains, especially when he was caught in the d-zone and ended up coughing up the puck which directly led to a Hershey goal.
Tthought Alex handled the power play fine,” Lambert said. “Think he handled himself well. He turned the puck back and you’re allowing another chance to check you.”
Dan Lambert did more positive words on Nylander’s first professional game. “He (Alex) did some things that were very good. I know the offense will take care of itself with him, defensively he tracked hard and broke up a few plays.”
Despite gathering the victory and keeping his cool under intense pressure throughout the entire game, praise for Linus Ullmark was hard to find.
“I thought he was OK,” said Lambert. “I think there are a couple he’d like back. That would be a fair statement. Typically, goalies don’t like giving those up.”
On the Hershey side, 2014 Washington Capitals first round pick Jakub Vrana continued his strong AHL play. After netting 16 regular season goals last season and 8 more in the playoffs, Vrana netted two of Hershey’s 5 goals on Friday night.
When asked about Rochester’s inability to stop Vrana’s offense, Dan Lambert was very frank.
“It doesn’t matter where he (Vrana) is picked,” Lambert said. “We have to play our game and do our job.”
It was evident following Friday night’s game, Vrana’s shot is NHL-ready. He should make some noise in Washington, when the opportunity is earned.
Notes: Forward William Carrier went scoreless in the game, but was seen all over the ice throughout the game and even gathered praise from head coach Dan Lambert. “Thought Carrier was physical, and that’s the way he needs to play.”