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Focused on the task at hand, Justin Bailey starts the season with a pair of goals

ROCHESTER -- He took the puck and snapped a wicked wrist shot, hard and accurate, at the Syracuse net. It was so hard, it bounced right back out in the blink of an eye forcing the officials to the replay to confirm that the puck, indeed, did cross the goal line.

With that he let out a scream, full of passion for the moment and the game.

That's Justin Bailey at his best.

"I think all of us want to have a good start from both a team standpoint and personally, but I mean I haven't scored in a long time," Bailey said. "It's been a few months and a long summer so I let that emotion out when I scored, for sure."

He ended up with two goals on Friday night as the Rochester Americans opened the season with a 3-1 win over the Syracuse Crunch in Blue Cross Arena. Bailey's stat sheet looked pretty good -- two goals, four shots and a plus-2 rating.

But for head coach Chris Taylor, that's just the tip of what he expects from the third-year pro.

"I liked his game in some parts," Taylor said. "I still think he has details and little things that he has to improve on. But that's not going to change overnight. That's not going to change in one game. It's a process and he knows it. We talk about it on the bench.

"But when he wants to go and wants to play, he's really good. He can skate. He can beat defensemen one-on-one and he's got a great shot. But there's other aspects of his game that he's got to pick up."

Bailey knows there are parts of his game that need to get better if he's going to make the jump to a full-time NHL job. He was one of the last cuts from Buffalo Sabres training camp in September after playing 32 games with the big club last year.

The natural disappointment didn't seem to linger for Bailey, who worked on his mental game over the summer and came back to Rochester ready to work.

"I think for me that was a game where I wanted to use some momentum from coming down to help me get a fast start," Bailey said.

"For us, we wanted to have a fast start. We wanted to show the city of Rochester that it's going to be a change of pace around here. I think from our goaltender all the way through our team, everyone contributed in their own way. That's what the outcome is when everyone pulls their end of the rope."

From the top on down the line, the Sabres have been looking to institute a culture change throughout the organization. Bailey said that was a consistent theme in training camp and the Amerks seemed to take the lessons learned in practice and implement them in the game.

"We did everything that we were supposed to do tonight," said goaltender Linus Ullmark, who had 27 saves. "It's the first game of the season. Everyone's exited. A lot of people are watching us this time of year. We want to keep it rolling, not just every other night but every night."

It was a good first step in Taylor's eyes, who picked up his first career win in his first game as a head coach. But it's only one game. The teams meet again Saturday in Syracuse and there's 70-some odd games left.

Still, a fast start sets the tone for the season. Details need to be worked on. The power play needs some time to develop. But those are workable things with a team of players who have arrived in Rochester with a positive mentality.

"I think everybody has accepted where they're at and they want to do well here," Taylor said. "They're going to have to do well here before they get recalled if they do get recalled. That's the whole culture change that we're doing here. When you're down here, you're playing as hard as you can. You're trying to get better as a player and you're trying to get better as a teammate."

 

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