A banner in Rochester
By Chamberlain Bauder
ROCHESTER, N.Y. ---The Rochester American's season came to an end Friday night in front of 8777 Amerks faithful. Game six of the Eastern Conference Finals proved to be Rochester's last as they fell 1-0 at home to the Hershey Bears. The Rochester team saw a lot of success in the late months of their season. In February they were not even in a playoff spot. They had their "backs against the wall" long before the playoffs started and it proved to make a difference as the Amerks played into June for the first time since 2000. Amerks head coach Seth Appert made a deep connection with this group of players.
"This group, it took time for us to become who we became. They had to fight really hard to become a team that played the right way, loved playing for each other, loved being Amerks." Appert continued. "But we grew to that and I'm incredibly proud of them. To not get to come to practice or have another game with them is probably worse than anything."
The 1-0 loss played out how the score sheet showed. Each team's defense stood tall time and again, Hershey blocked shot after shot. The physicality was relentless. Hunter Shepard and Malcolm Subban were named the first and second stars of the game for their performances between the pipes. Shepard backstopped the Bears with 24 saves and a clean sheet. Meanwhile Subban posted 18 saves on 19 shots, keeping the Amerks in it at times when Hershey gained the momentum.
The game winner was scored just over halfway through the second period. A rebound shot by Shane Gersich found the net while the Bears crashed down in a three on two fast break. After that the energy of the game went back to even. It was a similar scene to game two in Hershey when neither team seemed to be able to find a good chance except a few minutes in the second period.
The Amerks created some chances in the third but none were effective. Despite setting up in the offensive zone time after time, Rochester never had a skater in the slot when the pass went in. Hershey scooped up the puck almost every time. In the end the Amerks went on the penalty kill and fought through the last minutes of the game 5-on-5 with an empty net. The effort proved not to be enough as the game ended 1-0. A bittersweet feeling sat with captain Michael Mersch.
"Down 0-2 to Syracuse, they gave it to us the first two games in their barn and we could've just said 'alright time for summer.' But we made some changes, we brought a new attitude and everybody bought in and we're here June 2," Mersch said.
Over the course of the playoffs many Amerks stood out, whether it be defenders, forwards, veterans or prospects. Mersch and top line center Mason Jobst led the Amerks in points with 13 each through the playoffs. They were followed by prospects Lukas Rousek with 12 points and Jiri Kulich with 11. Defender Lawrence Pilut rounded out the points leaders with 12 points. His 12 was part of 37 total defensive points from the Amerks playoffs.
It was a strong performance by the Amerks overall to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. They exceeded expectations time and again. Now they face the pain of defeat. Coach Appert put it best.
"There's gonna be a North Division Banner in this rink for the first time in two decades. It's not the banner we wanted but it's still a banner we're pretty damn proud of," Appert said.