By: Chamberlain Bauder
BUFFALO, N.Y. --- The Buffalo Sabres had a tough start to the 2023-24 season. While the record of 9-10-2 off a 7-2 loss is tough it is not the hardest thing Buffalo has had to face. Instead it's been the injury bug. Five Buffalo Sabres are currently out of the lineup. Tage Thompson, Zemgus Girgensons and Jordan Greenway are just the latest Sabre's to make their way to IR. Mattias Sammelsson is day-to-day after the New Jersey game and Jack Quinn is expecting a return from his achilles injury in early December.
With all of that currently the Sabres called up Jiri Kulich and Isak Rosen from their AHL affiliates, the Rochester Americans. The forward duo have notched 36 points between them in 16 AHL games this season. They are the fifth and sixth call ups of the Sabres due to injuries this season.
“They’ve been great and through this last eight or 10 game stretch they’ve helped us win games without scoring which is hard to do at any age and certainly at 19 or 20,” Amerks head coach Seth Appert said about Kulich and Rosen on Friday just after the duo we're called up. “They’re more competitive on the puck than they’ve ever been. They’re playing harder, I’m using them on the penalty kill, I’m putting them out in defensive zone face-off situations. They’re drivers right now and they’ve earned that which is awesome. The growth of their game offensively but also defensively over the lat 12 months has been immense and we’re incredibly proud of them for that.”
Four other Amerks have made their way down the I-90 this season. The first was in the goalie room when both Eric Comrie and Devon Levi were out. Devin Cooley was called up but never played. The next recall was Brandon Biro. The undrafted forward out of Penn State has been with Rochester since 2021, this season he earned an A on his jersey.
“It’s hard to even describe how important Brandon Biro is for us,” Appert said about Biro’s time as a Rochester American. “He gets overshadowed sometimes by the high draft picks and young prospects but he is one of the hardest workers on this team if not the hardest. He’s one of the first guys here every single day. He puts in as much or more than anybody in terms of off ice work. He’s an amazing teammate and he’s easily, arguably, our best defensive player on top of being our leading scorer most of the time. I can’t praise him enough for the kind of teammate person and competitor he is.”
Biro earned the first game action of a call up on November 1. He scored twice, first by diving toward a deflecting puck and scoring the Sabres second goal. Then an empty netter in the third to help seal the victory. He played the next game as well, a loss to Philadelphia where he picked up an injury and left the line up. He returned to Rochester on November 13.
“I was dealing with a bit of a lingering issue playing through and it was making playing really tough and making every day tough to get through,” Biro said about his time in Buffalo and his time off during injury. “To be healthy took a big weight off my shoulders and obviously I wanna be in Buffalo and not in Rochester but from a mindset standpoint I’m just happy to be feeling like myself.”
Within a four day span after Biro's debut the Sabres called up rookie defensemen Ryan Johnson and forward Lukas Rousek. Johnson was a first round pick in 2019 and has finally come to the pros after a four year collegiate career at the University of Minnesota. The young defenseman earned his spot in the Sabres defensive room quickly being a fast right handed shot defenseman, a rarity in the NHL. Rousek's time in Buffalo was shorter lived on November 17 he was reassigned to Rochester.
Biro and Rousek have been key for the Amerks in their return. The Rochester team was going through injury woes of their own and Biro and Rousek have been mainstays for more than a year.
“Sometimes you get players back and they have a woah is me," Appert said about Biro and Rousek returning from Buffalo. "There’s none of that with the two of them. I think they come back with a renewed purpose and drive of ‘I can play at that level, I’m good enough to be there and now I just gotta keep working and fighting to get there every day instead of a few days.’ So I think they’ve come back very purposeful.”
Since their return Biro has notched six points in five games while rouses has kept a similar pace scoring four points in four games. The Amerks have been key for the Sabres through the beginning of the season and we likely haven't seen the last recall of the year. On Friday night after playing with 10 forwards to close out against the Penguins it was a no brainer for Sabres head coach Don Granato.
“Close,” Granato said about the team thinking about a recall from Rochester before the Penguins game. “It’s obvious we would discuss it, when you’re in that situation you weigh things and we felt we’re in a battle. We though 'let’s just let this group here battle' and it turned out to be that type of atmosphere and battle anyways. But you absolutely think about should you go 12-6.”
Granato knew there would be a call up that night and by the next night Kulich and Rosen were ready to go in New Jersey. Buffalo's prospects are the heart of their team and this season they are riding the hot seat. Now the question is how will the prospects do and who will be called up next.