Sunday notebook: Kulich, Rosen debut for Sabres

Photos: Getty Images

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

The Buffalo Sabres just could not resist any longer.

On Friday night, they put in the call to Rochester for Jiri Kulich and Isak Rosen after a dominant start to the season for both top prospects. The pair made their NHL debuts as the Sabres opened a four-game road trip last night at New Jersey.


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Buffalo management has taken a very patient approach with both players. Kulich, 19, went 28th overall to the Sabres in the 2022 NHL Draft and led the Amerks with 24 goals last season as a rookie, earning a spot on the AHL Top Prospects Team. Rosen, 20, also debuted with Rochester last season and had 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 66 games; he was selected by the Sabres 14th overall in the 2021 NHL Draft. Each played a key role as the Amerks advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last spring.

Back in Rochester this season, Kulich and Rosen have worked further to refine their two-way games while also continuing to deliver offensively. Rosen headed to the Sabres fourth in AHL scoring at 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) through 16 games; Kulich had 17 points in 16 games and departed tied for third in the AHL with 11 goals.

Both players starred in Friday night’s 3-2 overtime win that helped the Amerks to sweep a two-game set with Laval. Kulich supplied two assists while Rosen finished the victory with a breakaway goal.


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Rochester has been a hothouse for top young talent in the Buffalo system in recent seasons, particularly since head coach Seth Appert took over as head coach before the 2020-21 campaign.

Forwards Jack Quinn (eighth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft) and JJ Peterka (a 2020 second-round pick) are with the Sabres after developing with the Amerks. Peterka led all AHL rookies in 2021-22 with 68 points (28 goals, 40 assists) in 70 games and earned a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team. Quinn had 26 goals in 45 goals that same season. Forward Peyton Krebs also spent time with Rochester after coming over from the Vegas Golden Knights in a blockbuster trade. Goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is now with the Sabres after spending parts of five seasons with Rochester while defenseman Mattias Samuelsson played 55 games with the Amerks. Tage Thompson, Victor Olofsson and Casey Mittelstadt are also recent Rochester graduates.

Will Bitten made Hockey Fights Cancer Night in Springfield something to remember.

Bitten led the Thunderbirds to a 7-0 rout of Utica last night, scoring twice and posting a career-high four points. Younger brother Sam Bitten drew an assist on Will’s second goal for his first career AHL point.

The brothers started Bitsy’s Army to preserve the legacy of their late cousin, Martin Piché, and raise money for brain cancer research. Piché, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2014, passed away Jan. 8, 2021, at age 31.

The team donned special lavender jerseys featuring the Bitsy’s Army logo adorned on the right shoulder for last night’s game, and several members of the Bitten and Piché families were in attendance. The jerseys were auctioned off after the game to benefit both Bitsy’s Army and local cancer charities.


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After a franchise-record three consecutive shutouts, the Ontario Reign finally bent yesterday afternoon when San Jose Barracuda forward Jacob Peterson struck 2:37 into the game, ending the Reign’s streak of 191 minutes and 31 seconds without allowing a goal.

Erik Portillo shut out Calgary last Sunday before David Rittich led Ontario to a 6-0 win at Coachella Valley on Tuesday and a 3-0 triumph at San Jose on Friday. Portillo finished with 42 saves last night as the Reign rallied for a 4-2 win, moving their point streak to eight games (6-0-1-1). They have not lost in regulation since a 5-3 setback at Colorado on Nov. 4.

Saturday’s win also featured rookie defenseman Brandt Clarke, whom the parent Los Angeles Kings made the eighth overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft, pushing his scoring streak to nine games (three goals, nine assists) with a goal and an assist. Clarke’s point streak ties Hartford’s Mac Hollowell for the longest in the league by a defenseman this season; he now leads all AHL blueliners with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 17 games.

While Calgary and Abbotsford had been jostling for first place in the Pacific Division, the Reign have now overtaken the Canucks for second place and sit only three points behind the Wranglers.

Perhaps Chase De Leo can be part of the solution for what ails the San Diego Gulls.

The Gulls received their captain on loan from the parent Anaheim Ducks on Thursday after he had missed the first six weeks of the season following an injury in training camp. The Southern California native made his season debut last night at Pechanga Arena and assisted on Robert Hagg’s game-winning as the Gulls ended a 13-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over Chicago. Tomas Suchanek made 23 saves to pick up the win in his AHL debut.

De Leo was limited by injury to 22 AHL games last season after returning to the Anaheim organization as a free agent in July 2022. Back with a Gulls club that has struggled to both control the puck and convert offensively, he has produced 77 points (30 goals, 49 assists) in his past 77 AHL games divided between Utica and San Diego.

Matt Tomkins capped a long career journey when he made his NHL debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning last month. Now he is bringing that experience with him back to the AHL.

Tomkins was assigned to Syracuse after Lightning star Andrei Vasilevskiy returned to the lineup this week. He made three starts with Tampa Bay, picking up his first NHL win in a 5-3 decision at Montreal on Nov. 7. The Lightning signed Tomkins to a two-year deal in May after he spent the past two seasons in the Swedish Hockey League. A Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, Tomkins previously spent parts of three seasons with Rockford and represented Canada at the 2022 Olympics.

In Syracuse, Tomkins joins Hugo Alnefelt and Brandon Halverson in net. Halverson earned his first AHL shutout on Friday night in a 3-0 win against Utica. Tomkins made his Crunch debut last night against Laval and backstopped Syracuse to a 4-3 shootout win.

The streaking Cleveland Monsters put on a show Friday night, downing the visiting Toronto Marlies in front of 13,345 fans at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse – the largest crowd in the AHL this season and the Monsters’ biggest turnout since the 2018-19 season.

Pavel Cajan made 41 saves, an AHL career-best performance, and Kent Johnson scored the dazzling shootout winner as Cleveland posted a 2-1 victory. While Johnson went fifth overall to Columbus in the 2021 NHL Draft, Cajan has had a different path: The 21-year-old went undrafted, spent a season in the Ontario Hockey League with Kitchener, and then signed a two-year AHL contract with the Monsters in July 2022. He split last season between the AHL and ECHL levels, appearing in 22 games with the Monsters.


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Winners of three straight and 10 of their last 13, the Monsters now lead the North Division heading into the back end of their home-and-home with the Marlies this afternoon in Toronto.

The blue line stepped up on offense Saturday afternoon for the Colorado Eagles, as Jack Ahcan scored twice while Brad Hunt added a goal to help the Eagles to a 6-3 win over the visiting Texas Stars. Rookie defenseman Sam Malinski provided a career-high three assists. In the process, the Eagles stopped the Stars’ six-game point streak (5-0-1-0) and took a split of the teams’ two-game series in Loveland.

After the Stars had rallied to make it 3-3, Hunt’s goal 1:06 into the third period sent the Eagles on their way. Peter Holland, who returned from a month-long injury absence on Friday, scored his first goal since Oct. 20, and Ondrej Pavel, who made his NHL debut with the Colorado Avalanche earlier this season, scored his first professional goal in the Eagles’ win.