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For Amerks, life in Rochester is about learning, finding game

It wasn't so much the goal that Sean Malone scored that impressed Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor.

It was the faceoff he took at the end of the game. With less than 30 seconds to play and the Amerks trailing by a goal, the rookie Malone was sent out to take the faceoff in the offensive zone. He won it and gave his team another scoring chance.

Rochester didn't cash in the opportunity, however, falling to the Syracuse Crunch, 2-1, in their annual game in KeyBank Center Wednesday night.

But so much of life in the American Hockey League is about learning, about putting players in difficult situations to see how they respond.

And lately, Malone has been finding his game. Case in point, that late-game faceoff.

"To me, that's growth," Taylor said. "For him to go out there and he was nervous, he was kind of surprised. That's what we want from our young guys. We put them in situations they're maybe not comfortable with but that they can do. It was good for him to see that. He has been playing well and has been rewarded with some ice time."

Malone, a West Seneca native who played four years at Harvard, is in his first pro season. The AHL rookie scored the lone goal for the Amerks on Wednesday, cashing in a shorthanded opportunity with the help of Eric Cornel at 5:01 of the first period. It was his sixth goal of the season.

"I'm a rookie so everything's new to me," Malone said. "I'm about 50 games in now and I'm starting to feel like myself. Individually I feel like I'm doing OK but at the same time I want to contribute as much as I can to help us start winning again."

Winning has been elusive for the Amerks lately. This was their third straight loss and Rochester has struggled to play complete games, close out wins, or get wins in overtime.

On Wednesday, they took the 1-0 lead into the first intermission but then spent the entire second on their heels. Syracuse scored twice in a 10-second span – a goal from Mitchell Stephens at 1:26 and another from Matthew Peca at 1:36. The Crunch dominated the period and outshot the Amerks, 14-3.

"We've got to be willing to chip pucks by and skate and use our legs and we weren't willing to do that in the second period and it showed," Taylor said.

It's the little things, the details, that Taylor is trying to teach the prospects in Rochester. Consistency with those things will produce results.

It's a process that requires trust, something that Buffalo native Justin Bailey is learning.

Bailey scored twice in the Amerks season opener, but hasn't tallied since. Part of that time included a stint with the Sabres and part of that included missing 20 games with the Amerks with an ankle injury he suffered on Nov. 2.

Has has five points in 22 games for the Amerks, but he is finding ways to work on his game without being constantly concerned with production.

"For me it's been tough with the injury," said Bailey, who had no shots in the game but charged hard at the net late in the first period providing a memorable crash into the goal post. "I thought I played some of my best hockey in the beginning of the season and to get hurt and miss time like that and come back and not have the success that I had in the beginning of the year is tough.

"The message has been it doesn't matter about points," Bailey said. "Just come out here and compete and work on those little things, the details I need to work on. As tough as it is for a guy like me who's used to scoring down in the minors, it's something I just have to trust coach with and trust myself that doing the little things will make me successful and the goals and the points will come."

The points will come particularly if Bailey starts playing to his strengths and stops overthinking the game.

"The biggest thing for me is that he's just got to go out there and play. Stop the thinking," Taylor said. "Continue the process of what you need to do. The process for him is first and foremost, his forechecking and skating. It's a weapon so let's use it. He's got to take pucks wide and he's got to drive pucks to the net. I believe that he hasn’t been doing that. ... We've got to push him through that to get better and get in those areas where you're going to score goals. Once he does that, he's a great player. I’m not worried about him. We're still pushing him though."

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