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Kulich lifts Amerks over Belleville

By: Liam Hoffmann

ROCHESTER, NY-- The playoff-bound Rochester Amerks ended their weekend with an 8-2 win against the Belleville Senators on the back of Jiri Kulich's second hat trick of the season. Belleville bested Rochester Friday night 6-3, but a Utica Comets loss the same evening punched Rochester's ticket to the postseason. The win situates Rochester as tied for most points in the North Division alongside the Syracuse Crunch with 83.

"Yesterday I had lots of shots and no goals and it's great to score a hat trick," Kulich said. "The playoffs are coming so we have to do our things to be better in the playoffs."

Jiri Kulich pregame on Apr. 13 2024. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 the Point

On the eve of his 20th birthday, alongside his three goals, Kulich added an assist. Devon Levi bounced back from last night's loss, recording 20 saves on 22 shots faced. Isak Rosen scored two goals, both coming in the first period. Other Amerks with multipoint nights were Jeremy Davies (0+2), Justin Richards (0+2), Michael Mersch (1+1), Aleksandr Kisakov (0+2), and Noah Laaouan (0+2), who scored his first career points as an Amerk.

Justin Richards pregame on Apr. 13 2024. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 the Point

Things started slow, as neither team mustered a shot on goal for the first three minutes. However, the Amerks controlled the puck and allowed little possession time to the Senators, Rochester just wasn't firing on the net. That changed just under five minutes into the game when Rosen extended his point streak to four with his 17th goal of the season. Mandolese, moving slowly, couldn't reach Rosen's shot and thus the Amerks' lead was born.

"We started off good, we were hungry from the start," Rosen said. "It was nice to get an early one to just build on."

Two minutes later, Jobst fed Anton Wahlberg for a one-time try. The shot hit Mersch who was standing in front of the goal, but Jobst found the rebound and buried it. 11 minutes into the contest, Belleville goalie Kevin Mandolese was substituted out in favor of Leevi Merilainen.

Anton Wahlberg alongside Isak Rosen on Apr. 13 2024. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 the Point

Amerks team defense forced Belleville to take tough shots and for the duration of the first period, they were off the mark. Rochester kept firing and Rosen scored his second goal of the game by tipping in a Davies one-timer. With only a few seconds to go in the first, Zach Metsa tucked the puck in at the feet of Merilainen and gave Rochester a comfortable 4-0 advantage after 20 minutes.

"I thought it was imperative of us to make the game difficult on them, especially early," Amerks head coach Seth Appert said. "Hunt their D, make them uncomfortable. We had a really good mindset in that first period to make the game difficult on them and we got rewarded for it."

The scoring was much more limited for the first 12 minutes of period two. Belleville had 12 shots on goal in the second period to their four in the first but still mustered no goals. It was hard for both teams to move the puck in the middle 20 minutes due to very physical play and good stick work in passing lanes.

"They got a good team, they're trying to win too, and you're just not going to dominate for 60 minutes," Appert said. "When you're down four-nothing, you know the first 10 minutes of the second period is probably the game."

A too-many-men infraction against Belleville enabled Michael Mersch to score with a man-up and extend the lead to five. Soon after, too-many-men violations called against Rochester that sent Kulich then a minute later, Brendan Warren, to the box enabled a 5-on-3 opportunity for Belleville. The Rochester penalty kill salted away Kulich's suspension and when he re-entered play, he quickly gathered a loose puck before scoring off the rush all alone. After two periods, Rochester led 6-0.

A fan celebrating Jiri Kulich's birthday and the Amerks' playoff berth on Apr. 13 2024. Photo Credit: Liam Hoffmann, 89.1 the Point

That wasn't all for Kulich, though, as less than two minutes into the third he buried a one-timer from just outside the crease off of a feed from Nikita Novikov. As the third period progressed, the Amerks had long, controlled posessions that kept the puck safe and the clock moving. The shutout was ended when Wyatt Bongiovanni fired from the edge of the left faceoff circle past Levi. Kyle Betts then scored the Senators' second and final goal a minute and a half later.

To complete Kulich's hat trick, he and Kisakov saw a 2-on-1 chance against the goalie and through passing back and forth, Kulich was granted an easy chance and converted to make the final score 8-2.

The Amerks will be back at home Wednesday to host another North Division foe in the Toronto Marlies. Toronto sits in fourth place in the division and are yet to clinch a playoff berth. First puck drop in that one is set for 7:05 p.m.

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