Buffalo Sabres goaltending prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made his professional hockey debut Sunday afternoon and backstopped the Rochester Americans to a 4-2 victory over the Belleville Senators in Ontario.
Just three days after his final game with the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League, Luukkonen stopped 32 shots in the win as the Amerks completed their regular-season schedule.
The 20-year-old goaltender from Finland was playing on an amateur tryout contract.
Luukkonen made 20 saves in the third period, shutting out the Senators in the period. Belleville was desperate to win in order to clinch the fourth and final Calder Cup playoff spot in the American Hockey League’s North Division.
The loss and Cleveland’s win at Toronto gave the Monsters the No. 4 position in the North Division playoffs and first-round matchup with the Syracuse Crunch in the opening round.
Second-place Rochester (46-23-7) will face third-place Toronto in the best-of-five opening. The first two games will played on Friday and Sunday at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.
Despite his heroics, Luukkonen was not awarded one of the game’s three stars on Sunday. The first star went to the Amerks’ Taylor Leier, who scored his 21st and 22nd goals of the season. Leier spent part of the season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms before he was acquired by the Sabres.
The second star went to the Amerks’ Tage Thompson, who scored his sixth goal and made his third assist in just eight games in the AHL this season.
Luukkonen led the Ontario Hockey League with 38 regular-season wins, six shutouts and a .920 save percentage. He made 58 saves in a 3-2 triple overtime loss to the Ottawa 67ers on Thursday, losing a duel to another NHL goalie prospect Mikey DiPietro. Ottawa swept the playoff series from Sudbury, 4-0, but needed to win the longest playoff game in franchise history. The game was 13 minutes, 36 seconds shy of being the longest playoff game in OHL history.
Leier’s first goal Sunday came on the power play with assists from Wayne Simpson and Kyle Criscuolo and tied the game at 1-1 at 10:29 of the first period. His second goal, also on the power play, made it 2-1 at 12:37. Simpson picked up his 23rd assist and Thompson assisted on the goal.
Thompson put the Amerks ahead to stay, 3-2, at 14:25 of the second after Jack Rodewald’s goal had tied the game for Belleville.
Rookie defenseman Casey Fitzgerald added his first professional goal in his fourth game with the Amerks at 11:14 of the third. Leier and Criscuolo assisted.
Fitzgerald, a third-round pick in 2016 from Boston College, was playing on an amateur tryout contract he signed with the Sabres last month. His two-year entry-level contract will kick in next season.
He is the son of former NHL forward Tom Fitzgerald, now assistant general manager of the New Jersey Devils.