It was Wednesday morning, the day before the first preseason game for the Rochester Americans and the team was working with 14 players.
Welcome to life as an American Hockey League coach, Dan Lambert.
Just one week into camp, the parent Buffalo Sabres had already recalled five players, in part because of injuries and in part because of back-to-back road preseason games.
Still, it left the Amerks tweaking practice drills and finding creative ways to prepare for their 61st season.
“You know what, at the end of the day that’s our job, to adapt,” Lambert said after a training camp session in HarborCenter. “Sometimes you have to adapt on the go and we’ve done some of that with the drills. You can’t do certain drills because you don’t have enough players. But I thought today was a good day. We had to work on systems stuff and we did an OK job with it.”
Lambert is in his first year as the Amerks head coach and second in the Sabres organization after serving as an assistant in Buffalo last season. But the 46-year-old had a head start with many of the players, coaching them during the Sabres Prospects Challenge.
Frankly, he wasn’t necessarily all that impressed at the Prospects Challenge.
“The one thing I thought, a lot of the guys in rookie camp almost treated it like rookie camp and didn’t treat it like a Sabres camp and once the Sabres camp came along they were better,” Lambert said. “I’d like to see them better when they’re here, today. That’s I think the biggest thing. There are guys when you’re playing the game you sometimes look forward to, ‘Oh I can’t wait for my opportunity.’ But the opportunity is happening right now. So they have to take advantage of that.”
The opportunities in Rochester should have a slightly different feel this season with a new coach and a new roster. Last year, the Amerks carried seven to eight veterans as designated by the AHL. League rules limit a team to playing five skaters with veteran status in a game. That meant a different lineup every night and created difficulty in finding chemistry and cohesion on the ice.
It added up to a sub-par year as the Amerks went 34-38 with three overtime losses and one shootout loss, finishing out of the playoffs for the second straight season.
Lambert’s new job is to find the balance between developing players and winning games. The two goals, he believes, are mutually beneficial.
“I truly believe that when guys play the right way, you are going to win some games,” Lambert said. “Then obviously I think good organizations find a way where if guys get called u, it’s seamless. I think that’s where we need to get to if we’re not there already. We need to find a way to develop and win. I think if you want to win up top you need to develop and win in the minors as well. We certainly, I guess on paper with everybody healthy, we have the personnel to be able to win some games.”
Early standouts include defensemen Mac Bennett, who played for St. John’s in the AHL last year, and rookie Paul Geiger, who played a handful of games with Albany after finishing his collegiate career with Clarkson.
“You can play an exhibition game at the NHL level and it’s very different than at the minor league level,” Lambert said. The AHL “tends to be a little more chaotic and sometimes players play better in that situation and sometimes they play worse. It just depends on who they are. I think Mac, for example, he’s seen a few things now. A lot of times defensemen don’t figure the game out until later on in life. When you talk to him, he’s very aware of the mistakes he made as a young player and he wants to improve.”
The defense should be solid for the Amerks, with all signs pointing to Linus Ullmark becoming their starting goaltender.
“Up front I think it’s our youth and energy and skill,” Lambert said. “That’s what we have. Hopefully it plays that way.”
As for who actually plays, well, that’s a work in progress.
“It all depends on what we get from Buffalo,” Lambert said. “Once we get who we’re going to get, then we’ll see. There’s obviously a few guys who are banged up with Buffalo which might give some guys that we thought were going to be here opportunities, which then it’s up to them. You never know. Sometimes they take advantage of the opportunity and we never see them again. I’d love to see that for certain individuals.”
Rochester Americans Schedule
Oct. 14 Hershey, 7:05 p.m.
Oct. 15 at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 Syracuse, 5:05 p.m.
Oct. 21 Toronto, 7:05 p.m.
Oct. 22 at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
Oct. 28 at St. John’s, 6 p.m.
Oct. 29 at St. John’s, 6 p.m.
Nov. 4 Syracuse, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 5 at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 6 at Hershey, 5 p.m.
Nov. 11 Hartford, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 12 at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
Nov. 13 at Springfield, 3:05 p.m.
Nov. 16 Albany, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 18 St. John’s, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 19 at Utica, 7 p.m.
Nov. 23 Providence, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 25 Utica, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 26 at Albany, 5 p.m.
Nov. 30 at Utica, 7 p.m.
Dec. 2 Toronto, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 3 at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
Dec. 9 at Lehigh Valley, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 10 at Lehigh Valley, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 11 at Hershey, 5 p.m.
Dec. 14 Toronto, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 16 at W-B/Scranton, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 17 St. John’s, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 19 Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 26 Syracuse, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 28 Lehigh Valley, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 30 Lehigh Valley, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 31 at Utica, 5 p.m.
Jan. 6 Syracuse, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 7 at Toronto, 5 p.m.
Jan. 8 at Toronto, 3 p.m.
Jan. 11 Hartford, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 13 W-B/Scranton, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 14 at Toronto, 5 p.m.
Jan. 20 at Providence, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 21 at Hartford, 7 p.m.
Jan. 22 at Bridgeport, 3 p.m.
Jan. 25 Toronto, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 27 Albany, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Albany, 5 p.m.
Feb. 3 at Bridgeport, 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 at Hartford, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 10 Albany, 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 11 at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
Feb. 17 Bridgeport, 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 18 at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 19 Binghamton, 5:05 p.m.
Feb. 22 Utica, 7:05 p.m. (at KeyBank Center)
Feb. 24 Syracuse, 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 25 at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
March 3 St. John’s, 7:05 p.m.
March 4 Bridgeport, 7:05 p.m.
March 8 Toronto, 7:05 p.m.
March 10 St. John’s, 7:05 p.m.
March 12 at Springfield, 3:05 p.m.
March 15 Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
March 17 at St. John’s, 6 p.m.
March 18 at St. John’s, 6 p.m.
March 21 at Toronto, 7 p.m.
March 24 Springfield, 7:05 p.m.
March 25 at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
March 26 Springfield, 3:05 p.m.
March 31 Utica, 7:05 p.m.
April 1 at Utica, 7 p.m.
April 2 at Albany, 3 p.m.
April 7 Hershey, 7:05 p.m.
April 8 Utica, 7:05 p.m.
April 9 at Toronto, 5 p.m.
April 12 Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
April 14 Albany, 7:05 p.m.
April 15 at Albany, 5 p.m.