📝 by Suzie Cool | AHL On The Beat
That’s what teams really start to rely on at this point in the hockey season, especially in the American Hockey League.
At this time last year, the Rochester Americans were in a much different position depth-wise than they are currently. While last year’s Amerks faced a lot of injuries and were scratching and clawing for wins with players signed to professional contracts, this year they’re seeing the opposite: a fully loaded roster and having to sit players that realistically would otherwise be in the lineup.
However, with the Buffalo Sabres organization being healthy from top to bottom, every second of ice time is truly earned this season.
“That’s an interesting thing,” said Amerks head coach Seth Appert. “You think, naturally, that health is a good thing, and it is — you don’t want to be hurt, but there are some consequences to being healthy both up and down.”
All in all, this year is a lot different than last in terms of players being recalled to the Sabres. There have been only seven players summoned to Buffalo: goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen; defensemen Kale Clague, Lawrence Pilut and Jeremy Davies; and forwards Brett Murray, Anders Bjork and Vinnie Hinostroza.
“Last year, I think, over half our team got call-ups to the NHL and that provides excitement… not just for the player getting the call-up, but also for his teammates,” said Appert. “That’s hope. That’s what they’re all here trying to do, right? There just hasn’t been a lot of that this year.”
Most of this year’s moves happened at the beginning of the season, when both the Sabres and Amerks were facing a number of defensive issues. Hinostroza, however, was just recalled on Sunday morning and was inserted into the Buffalo lineup that afternoon against the Washington Capitals. The veteran forward, who has totaled nine points in 11 games with Rochester, went on to piece together a two-point performance, including his first goal of the season at the NHL level.
Hinostroza’s return to the NHL not only validates the importance of organizational depth, but further reaffirms the value of such a player as a team is grinding through such a long season.
Plus, it was well-deserved promotion for Hinostroza, who’s exhibited nothing but professionalism and a positive attitude since his arrival to Rochester.
“We’re really happy for him,” commented Appert. “He handled the assignment extremely well. It’s not an easy assignment, especially when you’re on a one-way (contract) and have been in the NHL as much as he’s been.
“He came down with a good attitude. His play got aggressively better. I think the last five to six games, he was excellent, and he was starting to look like himself with his pace and his energy and his competitiveness. It’s a lot easier to get inserted into the lineup when you’ve been playing 17 or 18 minutes a night for 10 straight games. I think that it showed in his game. He looked game-ready and obviously helped the Sabres get a big win.”
While Hinostroza went on to have a promising finish to his weekend, the Amerks completed theirs with three wins against three different opponents, punctuated with a 5-1 triumph in Providence on Sunday. An impressive finish to the month of February, and something that was needed at this point in the season for Rochester.
More impressively, the Amerks’ depth was again on full display as the team posted 20 goals while limiting the opposition to only six. There were 12 different goal-scorers, with Jiri Kulich (three), Michael Mersch (three), Linus Weissbach (three), Isak Rosen (two) and Jeremy Davies (two) all registering multi-goal weekends.
Not bad for a team that is trying to utilize its depth in the best way possible.
“It was beyond what I was hoping for,” said Appert. “I think this time of the year, we need depth scoring, but I also think that we are a team that’s built to score by committee more than score by a first line. When we’re playing our best hockey, we’re getting contributions up and down the lineup and from our defensive core and that certainly was the case this weekend.”
Healthy depth might just be the recipe that the Amerks need at this point in the season as they continue their busiest stretch of the 2022-23 campaign while also looking ahead at their 2023 postseason plans.