When Sabres GM Jason Botterill was hired last May, he talked about building an organization from the bottom-up, hoping to find success at all levels of professional hockey. Although the Sabres sit in last place in the Eastern Conference as he nears the end of his first season as Buffalo’s top executive, his process has worked an hour east for the AHL affiliate.
In order to accomplish what he set out for, he hired Randy Sexton to be the GM, and Chris Taylor as their head coach. In their first season leading Rochester, the Americans clinched their first playoff spot in four years, a possible sign of turnaround within the organization.
During their first year under a new regime, the Amerks finished in third place in the North Division with a 37-22-11-6 record and will face their interstate-rival, the Syracuse Crunch, in the opening round, beginning Friday.
Sexton – I think our lineup looks very balanced. It's good and important that some of our young guys will get battle tested here. We're confident we'll compete and show well. Should be a hell of a series. #Amerks #Sabres
— WGR 550 (@WGR550) April 17, 2018
The Amerks have been led throughout the season by young prospects like Brendan Guhle, C.J. Smith and Nick Baptiste, along with a healthy dose of veteran leadership.
Taking a huge step forward in his first season as a pro, Guhle has earned 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 47 games played, as well as playing in 13 games for the Sabres this season.
Smith led the Amerks with 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) in 54 games played in his rookie season.
Ullmark has continued to improve, posting a 20-11-4 record along with a 2.44 goals against average and .923 save percentage, and all will surely have an impact heading into the playoffs.
The key to Rochester’s success this year has been their culture, similar to other teams that have found success, especially since a majority of the roster is new from last season, including the coaching staff. However, Sexton and Taylor have found a way to build a team with chemistry and those in charge view it more important to build a team that’s talented as a whole rather than by the sum of its parts.
While the Amerks got off to a hot start, then cooled off a bit, they were able to pick up their winning ways, and finished the regular season with a 4-2 win over Syracuse and will be pivotal as they prep for the playoffs. Although it’s their first postseason taste in four years and this season was a positive sign for the future of both organizations, winning is always the goal and the Amerks will begin their quest for the Calder Cup when Game 1 kicks off this Friday night in Syracuse.