Linus Ullmark is going to the American Hockey League All-Star Game. The goaltender thinks he should have way more company.
Ullmark and left wing C.J. Smith will represent Rochester at the midseason gala later this month. Both have earned their way, but so have others on the impressive Amerks club that has started 22-8-6.
"We deserve a lot more people going to the All-Stars, not just me and C.J.," Ullmark said Monday in KeyBank Center. "That's just how I feel. We have an All-Star team, and that's how fortunate we've been."
The Amerks are third overall in the AHL thanks to balanced scoring, quality defense and impressive goaltending. Ullmark is tied for first with 17 victories in 26 appearances and ranks fourth with a .928 save percentage.
"I've been there two years with a losing record, and this year we've been on fire," said Ullmark, who practiced with Buffalo because Robin Lehner is day to day after taking a shot off his neck Sunday. "The boys have been playing out of their minds. It's a great group of guys. There's a lot of fun going into practice every day and coming to the rink.
"Most of that is because of what kind of personnel we've got on the team and the management behind it."
Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill and Amerks GM Randy Sexton were determined to build a winner in Rochester. While Smith leads the Amerks with 31 points off 11 goals and 20 assists, the rookie is surrounded by AHL veterans Kevin Porter, Sahir Gill, Kyle Criscuolo, Seth Griffith and Zach Redmond.
Ullmark will be thinking of them when he heads to the All-Star Game on Jan. 28-29 in Utica.
"I have a great team in front of me, first of all," Ullmark said. "If I play good and we lose, you might not go there."
The 24-year-old goaltender has embraced his role as a workhorse in the crease. He led the AHL with 55 appearances last season. This year, he ranks second in minutes and saves.
He's building an impressive résumé that should land him in Buffalo next season.
"We're in the minors for a reason, and we're there to develop our games and take it slow, bide our time until we're ready to play with the big boys," Ullmark said. "I have the same mindset going out there every day: making saves, stopping the puck. That's what I do for a living, and I'm going to keep on doing it."
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Lehner stayed off the ice after taking a puck to the neck Sunday during a 4-1 loss in Philadelphia. He remained in the game but needed a maintenance day Monday.
Robin Lehner took a shot to the neck and stayed in the game. Dude is tough as nails. pic.twitter.com/Fh85d3vGTJ
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) January 7, 2018
Lehner could be in the lineup Tuesday when the Sabres host Winnipeg.
"Robin's good. He's just day to day," coach Phil Housley said. "I think Ullmark's here in just support in case we need to use him."
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The flu bug continues to get the best of Victor Antipin. The Buffalo defenseman was absent for the 10th straight day due to illness.
"He's just got to work his way back in," Housley said. "He lost a lot of weight. He was ill, and those things don't happen overnight. He's going to take some time to gain some muscle and some strength back.
"Right now he's just starting that, and it's going to take a little bit of time for him."
Housley said Antipin could skate with the team this week. Buffalo hosts Columbus on Thursday, then enters its bye week. The next game isn't until Jan. 18 against the New York Rangers.
"Sometimes it hits different people different ways, and it seemed to hit him pretty hard," Housley said.
Antipin has four assists, 23 shots and a minus-3 rating in 24 games for Buffalo. He was scratched in seven of nine games before falling ill.
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Housley changed his lines again as the team continues to struggle. Jack Eichel centered for left wing Zemgus Girgensons and right wing Kyle Okposo. Ryan O'Reilly was in the middle of Evander Kane and Jason Pominville. Evan Rodrigues skated between Sam Reinhart and Scott Wilson, who alternated with Benoit Pouliot. Jacob Josefson centered for Johan Larsson and Jordan Nolan.
The defense pairings featured Marco Scandella with Rasmus Ristolainen, call-up Brendan Guhle with Jake McCabe, Nathan Beaulieu with Zach Bogosian, and Josh Gorges with Justin Falk.
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The Jets could have a familiar face in the lineup. Winnipeg recalled forward Brendan Lemieux before flying to Buffalo. The Sabres drafted Lemieux in the second round in 2014 but traded him to the Jets in 2015 as part of the deal for Kane and Bogosian.
Lemieux has one goal in seven games with the Jets. He has nine goals and 24 points in 24 games with the Manitoba Moose.