The Rochester Americans begin their best-of-five AHL North Division Final series against the Toronto Marlies on Thursday as a slight underdog.
Rochester had a 36-27-9 record (third place in the North) and came back from a 2-0 deficit in their second-round series against the Syracuse Crunch to win in five games. Toronto (winners of the North with a 42-24-6 record) dropped the first game of the best-of-five series to Utica before winning three straight and eliminating the Comets in four.
NOW IT'S JIRI KULICH 🚨 pic.twitter.com/6ahHXtq05p
— x-Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) May 7, 2023
The Americans have promising Buffalo Sabres prospects in the pipeline. 2021 first-rounder Isak Rosen and 2022 first-rounder Jiri Kulich have contributed, but Rochester relies heavily on veteran winger Michael Mersch and blueliner Lawrence Pilut, who scored the overtime winner in Game 5 against the Crunch. Former NHLer Malcolm Subban started all five games for Rochester against Syracuse, posting a shutout in Game 4 and 44 saves in the series-clinching victory.
Marlies Struggled Down The Stretch
Toronto had the best record in the American Hockey League entering March. The loss of 21-goal scorer Bobby McMann to a knee injury and deadline trades and recalls by the parent club Toronto Maple Leafs subtracted Adam Gaudette, Joey Anderson, Mikhail Abramov, and Joseph Woll from their roster. That contributed to the Marlies losing 11 of their last 13 games.
Leading scorer Logan Shaw came up big for the Marlies in their series against Utica with four goals in four games. Former NHLers Kyle Clifford and Joseph Blandisi each had five points. Toronto’s top prospect in the series is Topi Niemela, who was named the top defenseman at the 2021 IIHF World Junior.
TERRIFIC TOPI 🚀 pic.twitter.com/rOIPe9cZlq
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) April 28, 2023
Goalie Erik Kallgren took over for Keith Petruzzelli in Game 3 against the Comets and is expected to be the go-to guy against Rochester. That could change if the Leafs are eliminated and Woll returns to take over in goal.
Other Players To Watch
Lukas Rousek: The 24-year-old was a sixth-round pick in 2019 and played four years in Czechia with Sparta Praha before heading to North America in 2022. Rousek had a breakout year in the AHL with 56 points (16 goals, 40 assists) and earned late-season call-ups to the Sabres, which could be an indicator that he may be in competition for a depth forward role at training camp next September.
Tyson Kozak: The 20-year-old center struggled offensively after making the jump from the Western Hockey League to the AHL, but Kozak scored twice in the series win over Syracuse.