Both Sabres farm teams are in the playoffs

Rochester opens in Syracuse on Friday

Paul Hamilton
April 19, 2018 - 1:34 pm

Photo courtesy of Micheline Michaelina (@MiMiV4682)

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Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - We all know the Sabres aren’t in the playoffs, but both minor league teams they’re affiliated with are. Rochester opens its best-of-five playoff series Friday night in Syracuse.

Cincinnati lost the first two games of its best-of-seven opening round series in Fort Wayne 3-1 and 4-3 in double overtime.

The Amerks finished third in the North Division, three points ahead of Utica, but nine points behind Syracuse and 21 points in back of first place Toronto. The Marlies were the league’s best team by eight points.

Rochester hasn’t had a game since April 14 when they beat Syracuse 4-2. Head coach Chris Taylor was on WGR Sports Radio 550 with Andrew Peters, Craig Rivet and Matt Ellis. He is really looking forward to the match up, “They played exceptionally well after their first 10 or 11 games and they’ve probably been the best team in the league, even better than Toronto, so we know we have our work cutout for us.”

Jason Botterill and Randy Sexton have put together a good mix of younger players and veterans on this team including 24-year-old Linus Ullmark in goal. The kid will likely be the Sabres starting goaltender next season after two straight AHL All-Star appearances. Taylor said, “With Linus this year his maturity level is remarkable. He understands what he needs to do on and off the ice, like take care of himself, how his practice habits are and him going up to Buffalo helped him.”

“He knows we’re relying on him and he wants to show he’s not just a number two goalie next year, he wants to be the starter.

In Buffalo, Ullmark was 1-2-0 with a 2.00 goals against and .935 save percentage in five games.

When I say it’s a good mixture in Rochester, they brought in veterans like Kevin Porter, Nathan Paetsch, Zach Redmond, Taylor Fedun and Matt Tennyson to mix with the kids like Alex Nylander, C.J. Smith, Brendan Guhle, Casey Nelson, Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste. Taylor told Ellis, “It’s been big all year with the veterans and guys like Linus who has stepped up this year and been more vocal, but our veterans have been tremendous all year. We’ve had a lot of recalls and those are the guys that calmed everybody down and made sure that everybody felt good about themselves in the locker room and that’s why we’ve had success.”

Taylor had a great quote, which I think is what Botterill was talking about with the Sabres, but the other way. He said, “Our leadership all year has been great and that’s why we had success and I know as a coach or even as a player is that the leadership in the group runs the team and that’s why we have a good team because we have great leadership.”

Right from Day 1, Botterill has preached how important it is for the young players to start learning how to win in the minors. Taylor said, “It’s totally different between the regular season and the playoffs to be ready for these games because the intensity is higher, there’s a lot more hitting, there’s a lot more grinding and there are a lot more battles, so it’s a good indication to where that player is going to be heading. I tell them, put pressure on the Buffalo Sabres right now. Show them that you can play for the Buffalo Sabres next year because they’re going to be watching every game.

“Is Alex Nylander going to drive the puck wide, is he going to get over pucks, is he going to be strong, is he going to take a hit to make a play, is he going to block a shot? These are the things that Jason and Randy and Steve Greeley are looking for to see what they’re going to do for their rosters and all of our young guys have to prove that in the playoffs.”

Nylander came up to Buffalo and played the final three games scoring his first NHL goal in Tampa. He had an awful start in Rochester that including missing almost two months with a groin injury, but was strong in his last 29 games scoring six goals and 15 assists for 21 points. Taylor said, “He was hurt in the start of the year, but then he went to the World Junior, he was starting to get back into a little bit of a groove and I think right after, we really put an emphasis on him to get on the inside of the game because he liked playing on the outside because he could because of his skill.

“He wanted to be an outside player, be a passer and we decided for his best interests to start putting him in front of the net on the power play, make him get into dirty areas and we want him the challenge D like when you get guys shoulder to shoulder with you, what do you do? Do you pull-up or do you keep going?  At the start of the year Alex was pulling up, now he’s starting to go through guys and using his speed and using his creativity.”

I think many players up with the Sabres are uncoachable. Taylor said Nylander is the opposite, “He’s improved and he’s coachable and he did a lot of good things at the end of the year to warrant that recall.

“This is an exciting time for him, this is a big playoff run to see what level he can get to next.”

Nylander plays on the left wing with Baptiste and Colin Blackwell.

Taylor said Porter is their hardest working player in practice. The captain is between Justin Bailey and Danny O’Regan and Taylor wants those kids to watch how Porter prepares.

Brendan Guhle is still with Casey Nelson, but Taylor wants those two kids to watch the veteran pair of Redmond and Tennyson. He wants Guhle to watch how Redmond gets himself ready for a big game.

Will Borgen got eight games in after signing from St. Cloud State. It doesn’t appear like Borgen will play Game 1, but Taylor feels the kid has done well and will see some action.

C.J. Smith returned from injury and played the final three games of the season with Kyle Criscuolo and Seth Griffith. Smith had 17 goals and 27 assists for 44 points in 57 games. The rookie made the All-Star game, and it’s up to him to show that he deserves a chance to see if his great AHL play can translate into the NHL.

The Amerks were 4-5-1 against Syracuse this season. Games 3 and 4 if needed will be in Rochester on April 25 and 27.

In the Kelly Cup series, 2014 third round pick Jonas Johansson has been stellar in two losing efforts. In the double overtime loss, the 22-year-old made 68 saves. In the two games, his save percentage is a sparkling .945. Johansson will likely take over the Amerks job next season. He has 14 career AHL games under his belt.

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