The difference in results has been impressive. Amazing, really.
The Rochester Americans have points in their last nine games, their longest streak since a record-tying 11 straight wins from Oct. 12 to Nov. 10 during the 2009-10 season. Rochester is now six points behind the first-place Toronto Marlies in the North Division and in third place in the Eastern Conference standings. It's bringing new hope around Blue Cross Arena for a franchise that hasn't has made the playoffs the last three years and hasn't made it out of the first round since 2005.
On the ice, the Amerks have been playing with consistency while depth throughout the lineup has allowed the team to roll four lines and go six deep at the blue line.
Off the ice, the Amerks have quickly created a new culture, one that goes beyond hockey. One that is demonstrating that success is not a zero-sum game.
"I'm surprised at how well our culture has changed and how quickly it's changed in the dressing room," said Amerks coach Chris Taylor. "The staff and players are talking and enjoying each other. We know we're here for a reason and the end result is we're here to win and develop and have fun as a family. Everyone is buying in. Everyone wants to come in and see each other and see what's going on in other people's lives, not just our hockey lives. We care about each other outside of the game. That makes us a stronger team."
And that has translated into success in games. Sure, this season in particular has provided ample opportunity for players to earn call-ups to the Buffalo Sabres as the parent NHL club has struggled mightily, and somewhat unexpectedly. But nobody has been focused on the potential opportunity. That's not the culture in Rochester these days. Instead, the family atmosphere allows for players to grow and develop while the internal competition reinforces the need to bring their best every single day.
"With our people and our dressing room, it's about caring about each other," Taylor said. "They really want to win for each other. Everyone has a big picture. Everyone wants to be in the NHL. But when we're here, we're working hard. It's a family. We're trying to win for each other. There's internal pressure and internal competition. We want to compete daily, not just against another team but with each other, pushing each other to get better. Who wants to score that next goal? Who wants to step up on the PK and do a great job for us? Who wants to block a shot for us to make sure we get a win? Internally we're doing a really good job with that."
The rookies in particular have been able to shine in this culture. Forward C.J. Smith leads all active AHL rookies in scoring with 25 points in 25 games. His 17 assists tie him for sixth in the league. Brendan Guhle ranks second in scoring among AHL rookie defensemen with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists), all of which have come in his last 20 games.
The depth of the team has allowed them to make rookie mistakes without a loss in confidence. As others pick them up, they learn from the mistake instead of suffering a setback.
"The biggest thing is they're improving every day and not taking steps backward," Taylor said of Smith and Guhle. "They're still making young mistakes. That's part of the process of developing, but how are they going to respond to that when they're out there? They've had good responses and are really helping our team."
The Amerks are getting something the Sabres wish they had -- scoring from the blue line. Three of Rochester's top five scorers are defensemen, all with 15 points -- Guhle, Zach Redmond and Stuart Percy.
Backstopping it all is Linus Ullmark, who played his 100th game as an Amerk over the weekend. In his last 11 games, Ullmark is 8-0-3 and has not lost in regulation since Oct. 28. He leads the AHL in saves (508) and ranks second in wins (11) and minutes played (1,002). But what makes him a crucial element to the Amerks' culture aren't his numbers but rather his approach to the game.
"His professionalism around the rink, especially for practice and how he gets prepared for a game is so great," Taylor said. "He so badly wants to win. He's not worried about his goals against or his save percentage. He's just worried about winning first and foremost. He gives us a chance to win every game. He doesn't like to lose and that's a great mentality."
Rochester hosts the Utica Comets at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday in Blue Cross Arena then hosts the Toronto Marlies at 7:04 p.m. on Friday. The Amerks travel to Utica to play the Comets at 7 p.m. Saturday in Adirondack Bank Center.
Vojtech Budik (defense, Prince Albert Raiders): Has two goals and nine assists in 31 games for the Raiders. Was named to the Czech Republic's preliminary roster for the IIHF World Junior Men's Championship that will be in Buffalo beginning on Dec. 26.
Brandon Hagel (forward, Red Deer Rebels): Has 23 points in 27 games for the Rebels, including seven goals and 16 assists. Has one power-play goal.
Cliff Pu (forward, London Knights): On a four-game point streak with two goals and four assists over that span. He had a three-point night (one goal, two assists) in a 6-2 win over the Erie Otters on Dec. 10. For the season has 39 points in 29 games (14 goals, 25 assists).
Austin Osmanski (defense, Peterborough Petes): The East Aurora native has one goal and 11 assists through 30 games.
Vasily Glotov (forward, Shawinigan Cataractes): Held off the scoresheet in his last four games. On the season has 12 goals and five assists in 29 games.
William Borgen (defense, St. Cloud State): The junior has one goal and seven assists in 15 games as the Huskies are ranked No. 1 in the latest USCHO.com poll at 12-2-1 overall.
Christopher Brown (forward, Boston College): Scored his fifth goal of the season in a 5-2 loss to Northeastern on Dec. 9. Has 10 points in 18 games
Jacob Bryson (defense, Providence): The sophomore has one goal and 11 assists in 18 games for the Friars.
Ivan Chukarov (defense, UMass): Missed the first month of the season with an upper body injury. Has three assists in eight games.
Casey Fitzgerald (defense, Boston College): Has three goals and six assists in 17 games. Has gone without a point in his last five games.
Connor Hurley (forward, Minnesota): After three seasons at Notre Dame, Hurley transferred to the University of Minnesota. He will sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules and have one year of college eligibility left for the 2018-19 season. In 98 career games for the Fighting Irish, Hurley had 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists).
Casey Mittelstadt (forward, Minnesota): The Sabres first-round pick in 2017 extended his point streak to five games with an assist in each game at Ohio State. The Gophers lost both those games and have dropped their last three but remain ranked 10th in the nation. Mittelstadt has five goals and 12 assists in 19 games.
Brett Murray (forward, Penn State): The sophomore has one goal and four assists in 16 games. Penn State is ranked 15th.
Philip Nyberg (defense, UConn): Has two goals and one assist in 11 games.
Judd Peterson (forward, St. Cloud State): The senior has one goal and nine assists in 15 games for the Huskies, ranked No. 1 in the latest national poll.
Linus Weissbach (forward, Wisconsin): Was on a six-game point streak that ended Dec. 9 in a 6-2 loss to Notre Dame. Has five goals and nine assists for the No. 13 Badgers.
Maxwell Willman (forward, Brown): The senior has one goal and four assists in nine games.
Rasmus Asplund (forward, Farjestad BK): In 26 games in the SHL, he has four goals and 12 assists.
Marcus Davidsson (forward, Djurgardens): Has two goal and seven assists in 23 games in the Swedish Hockey League. He has three goals and an assist in three games played with the Djurgadens Under-20 team in the SuperElit League. Was named to Sweden's preliminary roster for the world juniors.
Oskari Laaksonen (defense, Ilves): Has three goals and eight assists in 33 games in the Under-20 league (Jr. A SM-Liiga).
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (goalie, LeKi): Has a 2.82 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage for LeKi, a second-tier league in Finland. Was named to Finland's preliminary roster for the world juniors.
Victor Olofsson (forward, Frolounda HC): Has 15 goals and nine assists in 24 games the Swedish Hockey League.