By: Brayden Peters
ROCHESTER, N.Y. - It was a good battle between the Americans and Bears, but Rochester fell short in the Eastern Conference Final rematch, 4-2. The game was very back-and-forth overall, as both teams showed some promise offensively and defensively. It was a packed house at Blue Cross Arena and although the game left many Americans fans disappointed, the game was extremely entertaining.
Going into the game, the Americans had a new face in their lineup. Forward Tyson Jost was loaned to the the team by the Buffalo Sabres Friday. The former 2016 tenth overall pick by the Colorado Avalanche recorded two goals and two assists for four points this year with the Sabres. He did this in 29 games.
With Jost dropping down to the AHL, it is not something he hoped for. However, according to Head Coach Seth Appert, it can be something to help him get back in the right direction.
"As much as it is disappointing to be in the American League for a guy like him, it can be very good for his career," Appert said. "It was very good for Anders Bjork last year. He got back to Chicago again last year...For him (Jost) to get to play 18, 20 minutes a night, being in special teams, things of that nature is great for him."
Right out of the gate in the first period, both teams looked strong. The Bears' offense was moving quickly with the puck. As for the American's, their offense put some pressure on Hershey's defense with a solid forecheck.
Hershey was able to establish an offensive rhythm quicker than Rochester, but with all the shots they took, it seemed like Americans goalie Devin Cooley was saving them all. The Americans' offense struggled to maintain possession of the puck in the offensive zone thanks to Hershey's stellar defense creating turnovers.
Due to this, it prevented Rochester from getting many shots on goal early on in the period. It even caused problems for their power play unit, which didn't record a single shot on goal on their first power play of the night.
It was long enough until the scoreless tie was broken. Bears defenseman Lucas Johansen recorded his first goal on the year, making it a 1-0 game in favor of Hershey.
Hershey had a chance to extend their lead in the first period on the power play. However, their second ranked power play unit was shut down by the Americans' penalty kill unit, which had the lowest penalty kill percentage going into the game.
Momentum quickly shifted towards the Americans not even a minute into the second period. Jost forced a turnover in front of the Bears' crease, got the puck out to Americans forward Lucas Rousek, who fed the puck to Linus Weissbach. He buried a one timer past Bears rookie goalie Clay Stevenson to tie the game 1-1. Weissbach has been on a roll lately.
"I think I've played pretty good hockey all year long," Weissbach said. "I think I've kinda been a guy on the team that not only offensively but defensively been playing well...Tonight was nice to get a goal."
Rochester had so much energy in their play after the goal, as they were all over the puck in the second period. They even created more scoring chances than Hershey. However, they were inconsistent when it came to making passes.
The Bears responded, though, on the power play with points leader Mike Sgarbossa scoring a one timer as the Americans' penalty kill unit broke down. The Bears had some momentum going into the third as their defense looked solid, forcing turnovers and blocking shots. However, when the third period came around, the Americans responded right back with Jost scoring his first goal of the season on the power play. He was happy to be on a power play unit again.
"It's so refreshing to be on the power play again," Jost said. "You just get into a rhythm and it's such a different game out there moving the puck instead of just sitting there."
The Americans kept making things tough on the Bears, but it didn't stop their offense. However, the Americans' defense helped force some turnovers, like they had for a lot of the game, and the impeccable play from Cooley continued. When everything looked bright for Rochester, the Bears took advantage of a huge turnover and forward Mike Vecchione scored, putting Hershey up 3-2.
All the energy that Rochester had seemed to have depleted after that goal as they couldn't find a way to respond and soon enough, forward Bogdan Trineyev scored an empty netter, giving the Bears a 4-2 win.
"That first goal against Syracuse the other night, which propelled them to victory, and the last one tonight are goals that were given to them for no reason," Appert said. "You score, you come back from a 1-0 and then a 2-1 deficit, and there's six minutes to go and you need to manage the game."
Outside of Rochester's game management difficulties, they kept up with the best team in the AHL. They forced Hershey's offense to be efficient with the puck because of the Amerks' physicality and ability to force turnovers. Offensively, Rochester kept driving the puck into enemy territory thanks to players like defenseman Jacob Bryson and created a good few scoring chances. However, there is still work to be done to get the Americans into a consistent rhythm of winning.
This game was not just major in that it was the Eastern Conference Finals rematch from last year. It also was meaningful for two former Rochester Americans that are with the Bears now: Head Coach Todd Nelson and defenseman Chase Priskie. Nelson was a defenseman with Rochester for the 2000-2001 season, where he recorded 26 points (six goals + 20 assists). Playing with the Americans was an unforgettable experience for Nelson.
"This is a special place," Nelson said. "I've been very fortunate to have played here in Rochester...The fans are knowledgable...the thing is that when you play for the Rochester Americans, people know who you are here and support the team very well."
Priskie spent about half of the 2022-2023 season with Rochester. In 42 games, he recorded nine points (four goals + five assists) before being traded to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Austin Strand. Being in Rochester was a great experience for Priskie.
"I had a great time in Rochester," Priskie said. "It's nice to see some of the guys on the team. You don't get to see them too often. During the summer, everyone kind of goes home."
With Rochester's loss to Hershey, they drop to 13-12-1-1 and fifth in the North Division. As for Hershey, they improve to 26-6 and remain as the top team in the AHL. The Americans will go on the road against Utica on the road Saturday. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.