ROCHESTER – It could have been said last week when the Sabres cleaned out their lockers. Instead, it came Monday as the Amerks cleaned out theirs.
“We played some nights and you’re like, ‘Wow, we’re a top team.’ There were other nights where we were non-existent,” forward Nick Baptiste said. “You can’t have those games, and you can’t have too many of them. We had way too many, and it’s unfortunate.”
Just like the parent club, Rochester’s season failed to extend into the playoffs. The Amerks packed their gear and put the wraps on a 32-41-3 season. They finished 26th in the 30-team American Hockey League.
“You can’t take nights off, and I feel we took too many of those,” forward Cole Schneider said in Blue Cross Arena.
Roster shuffling and a lack of organizational depth had a profound effect on the Amerks, who used 47 players. Effort hurt as well.
“I can’t tell you how many times I stood here after games and complained about the compete level we didn’t have,” coach Dan Lambert said.
However, learning is essential in the minor leagues. It appears the Amerks gained knowledge late. They finished with an 8-4-1 run in their last 13 games.
“Hopefully, we instilled in all these young kids what it takes to win in this league and compete on a night-to-night basis,” center Tim Kennedy said. “I don’t think you’re ever satisfied if you don’t make the playoffs, but hopefully guys are leaving here with a good taste in their mouths that we finished strong.”
Plenty of guys are leaving with a taste of the NHL. There were 16 players who appeared in games for Rochester and Buffalo this season: Brady Austin, Justin Bailey, Baptiste, Erik Burgdoerfer, William Carrier, Justin Falk, Hudson Fasching, Taylor Fedun, Derek Grant, Brendan Guhle, Casey Nelson, Alex Nylander, Cal O’Reilly, Evan Rodrigues, Schneider and Linus Ullmark.
“You can look at injuries or different things as the reason that happened, but I’m really proud of the fact a lot of guys did get an opportunity there,” Lambert said. “Some of them did real good on them.
“I do believe there are a lot of players in that room that are a lot better today than they were in September or October.”
Two poor stretches doomed the Amerks. They went 2-9-1 in late November and early December, and they had a 2-7 slide that stretched from February into March.
“I’d like to think we did the best we could with what we had at times,” Lambert said. “In saying that, we didn’t win enough hockey games.”
Schneider led the Amerks with 63 points, tying for sixth in the AHL. He paced the team in assists (39) and was second in goals (24) while playing 71 games. The 26-year-old from Williamsville will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
“I like it here,” he said. “It’s close to home. They’re a great organization, take great care of us. I would like to come back.”
Baptiste was Rochester’s top goal-scorer, potting 25 in 59 games to rank in a tie for 14th in the league.
Ullmark led AHL goaltenders with 55 appearances, going 26-27-2 with a .909 save percentage. He faced the most shots in the league (1,678).
Kennedy, a midseason addition after leaving his team in Sweden, finished with four goals, 25 assists and 29 points in 47 games. The 30-year-old also said he’d like to return.
Lambert, who was an assistant in Buffalo two seasons ago before taking over the Amerks this year, is hoping to remain behind the bench.
“When I look back, there’s things I should have, could have, would have handled differently,” he said. “That’s all part of growth, so we will get better.”
He’s aware that losing creates uncertainty for coaches, but he’s proceeding as if he’ll keep the job.
“Today I don’t have any reason to think otherwise,” Lambert said, “but things do change daily when you do have an organization where both teams don’t make the playoffs and people are unhappy. I am preparing as if I am coming back, and I certainly want to come back.”