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Amerks season ends vs Crunch

By: Aiden Locke

ROCHESTER, NY --- The Rochester Americans fell to the Syracuse Crunch in a tightly contested series. Syracuse took the final game of the series 5-2 in Blue Cross Arena. In a season full of ups and downs for Rochester, falling to Syracuse is nothing to be ashamed of.

"They did a good job on keeping things simple and chipping it out of the neutral zone, they made things hard on us," Amerks forward Mason Jobst said.

Coming into game five off an improbable four unanswered goal comeback win in game four, the first period couldn't have started worse for Rochester. Syracuse dominated physically and controlled puck possession. The Amerks' first shot on goal wouldn't come until after the halfway point of the opening frame.

A puck battle along the boards. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann / 89.1 the Point

Syracuse defenseman Declan Carlile opened the goal-scoring early, with a blast from the outside. Traffic in front made it tough for Amerks goaltender Devon Levi to see it, resulting in the goal. The Crunch scored their second unanswered seven minutes later. Forward Cole Koepke cashed in on a suspect goal because of borderline goaltender interference by Crunch center Gabriel Fortier.

"The first period, I thought we were a little hyper and they got a couple of bouncy goals, both their goals in the first went in off of us. But sometimes that's just how hockey works," Amerks head coach Seth Appert said.

Rochester responded towards the end of the opening period. Amerks center Justin Richards had a goal called off due to a kick-in, but defenseman Jeremey Davies found the back of the night right off the ensuing draw. Davies received a nice backdoor pass from fellow defenseman Joseph Cecconi.

Forward Tyson Kozak during game five against Syracuse. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann / 89.1 the Point

Syracuse took back a two-goal advantage halfway through the second period via winger Waltteri Merelä assisted by center Felix Robert. Frustration filled Rochester throughout the first half of the game.

"There were little moments of frustration," Appert said. "Some of the early calls seemed to be going against us...but for the most part I thought we fought through that pretty good and kept our emotions in check."

Rochester kept battling back like they have all series. Forward Michael Mersch scored a greasy power-play goal from the back door. Forward Jiri Kulich sent a perfect pass for an easy deflection for Mersch.

Brett Murray laying a hit on a Syracuse skater. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann / 89.1 the Point

Davies exited the game with an upper-body injury after a brutal open ice hit. His absence was felt down the stretch for Rochester offensively.

The Crunch put the game away late, getting the dagger with over five minutes to go. Koepke scored his second of the game for Syracuse to deflate the air out of the Amerks' tires. Syracuse added an empty netter two minutes later.

"That one stings," Appert said. "Unfortunately someone has to lose, I think Syracuse and us are teams that are capable of deep runs it just happens that the North Division is such a bear and we have to play each other early."

The Syracuse Crunch celebrating a goal. Photo credit: Liam Hoffmann 89.1 The Point.

Falling in the North Division semi-finals is a disappointing result for the Amerks after last season's run to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to eventual champs Hershey.

Overall Rochester has many positive takeaways from their 2023-24 season. The young talent in the organization such as Kulich, forward Isak Rosén, Levi, defenseman Ryan Johnson and more all took big steps throughout the year. Rosén embraced a more physical style of play down the stretch and became a crucial part of Rochester's forecheck in the second half of the season. Kulich had some ups and downs offensively but still finished with 27 goals in the regular season.

Isak Rosén and Jiri Kulich during game five against Syracuse. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann / 89.1 the Point

"You look at the start of the year until now and how we were able to come together as a team for the last couple of months, that was pretty special," Mersch said.

Levi stole the show and became the main talking point for the Amerks once getting sent down long-term in the winter. Levi played 31 games in the red, white and blue. In five postseason games he posted a 2.57 GAA with a .923 SV%. In 26 regular season games he had a 2.42 GAA and a .927 SV%. Overall Levi went 18-9-4 as Rochester's starter between the pipes.

"It's been great," Levi said. "I learned so much about myself, about my teammates and about the game, being a pro, it was a pleasure being here."

More young talent entered the lineup late in the regular season. Forwards Anton Wahlberg and Noah Östlund joined Rochester from Sweden late in the season. Wahlberg was the 39th overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, Östlund was the 16th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Forward Matt Savoie, the 9th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft should also be joining Rochester in 2024. This influx of younger talent to potentially join the likes of Kulich and Rosén will give Rochester one of the most exciting young cores in the AHL.

Other key takeaways for Rochester include the emergence of Jobst who had a 50-point regular season and won team MVP.

Mason Jobst during game five against Syracuse. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann / 89.1 the Point

"Personally, it was one of the most fun years I had as a pro," Jobst said. "I just try to getter better each year and I pride myself on the offseason in taking a deep dive into my game and even though I'm older I still feel like there's always room to grow."

In a year where over 40 different players suited up for Rochester, they battled through constant adversity all season long. The constant changes throughout the organization during the season and roster turnover on a day-to-day basis, paired with numerous injuries provided these challenges. Rochester's season where they finished tied for first in the North Division at the end of the regular season was nothing short of a success.

For more on the Amerks season, check out the Flower City Sports podcast on 89.1 the Point's Spotify.

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