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Amerks falter late

By: Liam Hoffmann

Lukas Rousek held down by the boards. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 the Point

Rochester, NY-- The Belleville Senators spoiled Hall of Fame induction night at Blue Cross Arena with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Rochester Amerks. A 1-0 lead for the Amerks that lasted 26 minutes of game-time was erased in the final minutes which enabled overtime and an eventual shootout in which the Sens emerged victorious.

Rory Fitzpatrick was inducted into the Amerks Hall of Fame before the game. Fitzpatrick, from Irondequoit, is the first Rochester-born inductee to the Hall. He played for the Rochester Monarchs (now known as the Rochester Jr. Americans) in his teenage years and now finds himself among the Amerks' most prestigious.

"As a teenager you hope and you have these wild dreams, but to have played in the NHL, and play for your hometown team, is beyond anything imaginable in my teenage years," Fitzpatrick said. "Obviously I worked towards that goal, but I never would have dreamt it as a teenager."

Fitzpatrick (right) being recognized pregame. Photo Credit: Micheline Veluvolu via Rochester Americans Flickr

Mason Jobst scored the lone goal for the Amerks on the evening. It was his 16th of the season and third in the last three contests. Jeremy Davies and Linus Weissbach were each credited assists on the score.

It was Zack MacEwen who scored the game-saving goal for Belleville. Jacob Larsson and Jiri Smejkal were assisters. Matthew Highmore converted the game-winning goal in the shootout.

Linus Weissbach and Mason Jobst pregame. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 the Point

To start the game, Amerks goalie Dustin Tokarski was bombarded with shots. A poor team defense sequence by the Amerks forced 'Ticker' to get into a groove early. Thankfully for Rochester, he did just that. Tokarski finished the evening with 32 saves on 33 shots and 65 minutes of ice time. He also surrendered goals to two of the four Belleville skaters in the shootout period.

"Ticker played incredible tonight," Jobst said. "We feel bad for letting him down. He was so good."

Across the ice, Belleville got effective performances from not one but two of their netkeepers. Just under ten minutes into period two, Mads Sogaard left with an injury and did not return. He was effective in his playing time, turning away 13 of the 14 shots he faced. Enter Kevin Mandolese who finished the night with six saves on the six shots he faced alongside denying three of the four Amerks he faced in the shootout. The Amerks only mustered two shots in the entirety of period three after 13 in the second thanks to shorthandedness and much better team D from the Sens.

"You've gotta give Mandolese credit," Amerks head coach Seth Appert said. "He had a lot of work down the stretch in the second period, made some huge saves."

In the first three minutes, the Amerks managed less than 15 seconds in the offensive zone. Mason Jobst also appeared to experience an upper-body injury around four minutes in but returned.

The Senators moved the puck fast and often. Tokarski stood very strong through the first 16 minutes but his offense on the other end wasn't doing him any favors. The Amerks had only four shots on goal to that point while Belleville had seven.

The Amerks power play came up empty on the night, not converting any of their three chances. Appert stuck five forwards on the first extra-man group but the offense did not look smooth. The Amerks seldom put bodies by the posts in these situations, especially on their first two power plays.

When the game was half salted away, the Amerks were yet to reach the decade mark in shots on goal with only eight recorded with 12 minutes left in period two. To that point, the Amerks were not strong clearing pucks out and generating scoring chances in transition. Sogaard looked strong in his time without having to handle too much. The Amerks did ramp the offense through the rest of the second though.

"I thought in the second our breakout efficiency was much better," Appert said. "We got some of our forwards in the last half of the second period out in some space and created some isolated situations that got out-numbered rushes."

Michael Mersch set what was effectively a pick without interfering on a defender at the blue line which gave Jobst a free run at the net. Jobst skated from the left to right side of the goal and tucked the puck in the bottom corner generating the 1-0 advantage for Rochester. The Amerks went from eight to 18 shots on goal over a 10-minute span in the back half of period two.

"Me and Merschy work on a lot of stuff," Jobst said. "The pick-and-roll for sure...Thanks Merschy."

Michael Mersch pregame. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 the Point

While one-half of the Amerks' special teams were disappointed, the penalty kill got the job done. Tokarski was brilliant all night including man-down scenarios. Tight, physical play and pass blocking by the skaters were also paramount to Rochester's success in that area.

MacEwen's goal came with just over three minutes remaining in regulation. Larsson fired from near the right faceoff dot and MacEwen tipped the puck home to knot things at one. Neither team was able to score again in the first 60 minutes so overtime was born.

It was a back-and-forth five minutes of overtime as both sides recorded similar time possessing the puck. Perhaps the best scoring chance for either team was a Brandon Biro one-timer that Mandolese had to make a tough save to keep from being the dagger. The Amerks were granted 58 seconds of 4-on-5 hockey to close out the extra period when MacEwen was called for a high-sticking double minor but came up empty.

Brandon Biro pregame. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 the Point

Alexandr Kisakov, who hardly played in the third period, entered the ice first in the shootout. He buried his opportunity past Mandolese. Rourke Chartier returned the favor for Belleville by scoring on the first shot. Over the next four attempts, no skaters found paydirt, and that enabled sudden death. That was all Highmore needed to hear, as he got the job done and ended what was a very long night at Blue Cross Arena.

"Super disappointed," Jobst said. "We played good for 55 minutes."

The Amerks get to sleep on the loss but will be back on the ice tomorrow in Hershey challenging the defending champion Bears. Hershey won the two's first matchup of the 2023-24 campaign in December at Blue Cross. Puck drop tomorrow is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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