Zemgus Girgensons can't cook. He says if not for his roommate Jonathan Parker, he would be stuck eating Lean Cuisines. Oh, and he's trying to cut down on candy.
Watching Girgensons on the ice Friday night in the Rochester Amerks' 5 to 2 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs, you wouldn't have known he just turned 19. Or that he has no idea how to cook.
Coming off an ugly 5-3 loss to the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday, the Amerks fell behind quickly on Friday night to the league's worst team. Then “Z” made a play. I mean, he really made a play.
On the power play, the first-round forward grabbed the puck behind the net. As he started to drive toward the front he was tripped from behind. You have the thought that a 5-on-3 was coming. Instead, while he was being tripped, the 19-year-old had the presence to find the puck and tap it to teammate Brian Flynn, who was standing all alone.
Just like that, it was 1-1. The Amerks took off from there.
“Every time out there, he's going to compete,” head coach Ron Rolston said of his rookie forward. “That's the one thing he's brought this year that, for his age, I don't know if it's exactly surprising because we knew what kind of player he was from junior hockey, but his ability to be consistent in what he does.”
The Amerks needed Flynn's goal. The team was shaken after losing their two stars Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson, then immediately getting tossed around by the Crunch. Falling behind early to a team with the league's worst power play, the were desperate for a spark. The rookie was happy to deliver it.
“I think that playing like that is a style that's needed to get a team going,” Girgensons said. “It was just luck, I was just hoping it would land on Flynnies stick. It was good.”
What's the saying about making your own luck?
Anyway, If the Sabres' farm club wants to make the playoffs, they'll need the rookie to shine in his new role. Foligno, Hodgson and defenseman T.J. Brennan led the AHL's second best power play. Now at least two are gone for sure and the other likely has played his last game at Blue Cross Arena.
“It's whatever the team wants me to do,” Girgensons said. “The little amount of (special teams) time that I got in the start of the season, it gives you a little spark to work harder and try to get more ice time to get on the PP or PK.”
The Latvia native said he played nearly all the positions on the power play, but had spent the last two years on the half wall. Expect him to spend a lot of his time there in Rochester, too.
Playing only limited minutes early in the season, it would have been easy to get frustrated, but Girgensons said the Sabres bringing him along slowly was probably for the best. Now he feels more comfortable in the American Hockey League, where he regularly plays against players 10 years older with NHL experience.
He's getting the speed and power of the pros, but he still hasn't quite adjusted to the AHL-level chirping.
“In the Buffalo game, the Beaulieu kid from Hamilton, we tied up and he said 'how long have you been in this league, grandpa,'” Girgensons said. “I said, 'actually this is the first year I can even play in this league.'”
His sarcasm detector is still coming along, too.
In seriousness, Zemgus comes across as a do-what-it-takes player. In fact, following Friday night's game, Rolston said he expects his rookie to start taking leaps forward as Foligno did last year.
“It's a good opportunity for me to get more ice time,” Girgensons said. “Maybe I can try to get more points and find some comfort. I think teams that accomplish a lot have everyone chip in.”
As for his cooking?
“I'm glad 'Parks is helping him out,” Rolston said.
T.J. Brennan – T.J. will remember this one for a long time. He scored on a blazing slap shot, he got a 10 minute game misconduct and, appropriately as the team MVP so far, was given the game's first star. He received a huge ovation from 7,700 when he skated out.
“It;s a classy way to go out if that's the case,” he said. “Rochester's been great to our team and to me personally. It's been a fantastic year. We try to return the favor by playing hard every night. I've felt like every time I look up in the stands the crowd just keeps getting bigger and bigger, so it's been a hell of a year and I only have good things to say about how the city's been.”
We'll see where Brennan goes. If he ends up in the NHL, he deserves it. He's taken major steps forwad on defense and has worked hard to improve his physical shape and hone his shot. A class player and solid leader as well.
Brayden McNabb – McNabb had an outstanding game. He's struggled at times, but he was the same player we saw in Buffalo last season. McNabb's decision making, effort, physical play...it was all much improved. He also made a nice play to score a goal.
Rolston talked at length about McNabb after the game.
“You know, he's 6-foot-5. We talk about the process and he's a second year player who is 6-foot-5 and it takes defenseman longer to develop. It's a tougher position, especially to go up to the NHL and play that position. It takes guys years and years to really feel comfortable.”
Will the NHL's return re-focus McNabb?
“I think you're right, the focus is going to be there now. Since that's going on and they are going to start playing here, that guys know like last year that they're an injury away or a shot block away from being the next guy that gets the call.”
Mark Mancari – Scored another goal on Friday, took five shots and was plus-2. He's up to 29 points in 35 games. Just a terrific player to have in the Sabres organization.
Luke Adam – Had two assists, one of them on an outstanding pass. As always, he looked like a different (and much better) player at center.
Nick Tarnasky – Again added a goal. For a guy the Amerks brought in for toughness, he's been quite the offensive presence. Will be needed going forward
Kevin Porter – Added 2 assists. Has been consistent in his effort. Played a role in a late-game scrum doing the usual: standing up for teammates.
Alex Biega – Racked up 17 penalty minutes in one scrum. Not something that happens often from the guy who went to Harvard. He's been solid this season.
Brian Flynn – Scored a goal and an assist. Now has 25 points in 32 games. His production has continued after a streak in Dec.