When Phil Housley and Chris Taylor get together at Sabres development camp this week, the coaches will bring successful game plans. Housley went to the Stanley Cup with Nashville. Taylor celebrated a title with Pittsburgh after helping its minor-league club go 51-20-5.
That meeting of the minds should excite fans in Buffalo and Rochester, who have a combined nine seasons of playoff-free hockey. It certainly excites Taylor.
“We’re going to get talking a little more at development camp and go over some systems, go over some things that we both want,” the Amerks’ new coach said Monday. “Obviously, I have a ton of respect for him, especially with their team going into the finals against my old organization. It was fun that way in seeing how they played.
“Their team was always up in the rush. Their D was always up in the rush, and I’m assuming he wants the same type of style he had in Nashville. I can bring a little bit of what we did in Pittsburgh, and I think it’ll be great.”
Just like Housley was thrilled about returning to Buffalo, Taylor is ecstatic about taking over in Rochester. He’s a member of the Amerks Hall of Fame who played in Rochester for nine seasons and worked on the coaching staff for five.
“We just want to bring excitement back into the city with our team, play exciting hockey and show that the players are willing to put the work in,” Taylor said by phone. “The fans are so passionate here. They love hockey.
“I want them to come to every game and see a great product on the ice, but they also see great individuals in their community.”
Taylor earned his first head-coaching job after spending a season as an assistant for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Baby Penguins had the best record in the American Hockey League under General Manager Jason Botterill, who took over as GM of the Sabres in May.
“Chris had a very good background to get into coaching,” Botterill said. “He was a player who was a high-end offensive player at the minor-league level that found a way to contribute and play games in the National Hockey League as a defensive player. I think it just goes to show you the hockey sense that he has and sort of the hockey mind.
“He’s extremely well-organized. He’s obviously very familiar with Rochester and will have that presence to interact with the players.”
There’s a clear comfort level for Taylor with Botterill and Randy Sexton, the Sabres’ assistant GM who is the general manager in Rochester. They got to know each other better during a rookie tournament for the Penguins at the beginning of last season, and the interaction continued throughout the year.
“When Jason got hired in Buffalo, first and foremost I was just excited about what’s going to happen with Buffalo,” said Taylor, who played parts of four seasons with the Sabres in the early 2000s. “Bringing a guy like that in, it just changes the whole dynamic of the Sabres. He’s so knowledgeable and really good at what he does. I was just ecstatic for the organization.
“Just the culture with Pittsburgh, the communication from top to bottom was excellent. Everybody was on board with what we were doing. The management was there almost every game in Wilkes-Barre. Every player noticed. All the coaches noticed. The whole staff noticed. It was nice. It was just nice to see and get feedback and direction with what they wanted, what we wanted.”
Improved communication between the Sabres and Amerks is high on the organization’s agenda. People are determined to have winners in both cities.
“What we have to change here in Rochester is that you have to earn everything you get,” Taylor said. “You’ve got to earn your ice time. You’ve got to earn your call-ups. That’s the way we want to be down here.
“It is important. It’s accountability for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you were drafted or if you’re a free-agent signing or just coming out of junior and signed an American Hockey League contract. We expect everybody to be treated equally, and everybody has to earn their spot.”