ROCHESTER, N.Y. – After losing Friday’s matchup against the Cleveland Monsters, Amerks head coach Seth Appert turned back to goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen for Saturday’s rematch.
UPL responded by stopping all 32 shots he faced, playing a massive role in Rochester’s 4-0 win over Cleveland on Saturday. Many projected G Michael Houser to get the start, but it was Luukkonen who started his third game in four nights. While the decision wasn’t easy, the Amerks’ coaching staff went with their gut.
“We debated a lot about it as a staff, with Seamus [Kotyk], sports science would say you shouldn’t start him. I appreciate all of that information, but you’ve gotta trust your gut. I have full confidence in Michael Houser, but I really like where Uppie’s game is going.” Appert saw Saturday’s game as a chance for UPL to work on his game not only physically, but mentally. “This was a really good opportunity for him mentally… to go in there and really battle. To test himself of what the has inside of him.”
Luukkonen has been off to a bit of a rocky start early in the campaign, but Saturday’s shutout, along with his performance in three starts over the last four nights, could be an opportunity for the young Finnish goaltender to establish some momentum. The shakiness of his start this season is not lost on UPL.
“The start was a little bit rough, but it’s only a couple games. There’s no need to look backward.” Luukkonen continued, “I think it’s been an alright week for me – a lot of games this week. It’s fun to take the positive things out of it, and find the things you need to improve.”
While goaltending took center stage, the Amerks and their usual suspects were able to light the lamp four times, demonstrating once again that when firing on all cylinders, this team can be one of the best offensively in the AHL.
The first period of Saturday’s game resembled the first period of Friday’s matchup in that neither team was able to establish much offensive zone ice time. Both teams were effective at clogging the neutral zone and getting in the way of any opposing opportunities. Justin Danforth clogged the neutral zone effectively a little over midway into the period, bringing JJ Peterka to the ice and forcing a turnover in the Monster’s zone. Unfortunately for the Monsters, Peyton Krebs regained possession of the puck. Krebs found Peterka with some daylight at the Monsters’ blue line, and Peterka would fire the puck past Jean-Francois Berube for his third goal of the season, making it 1-0 at the 13:26 mark of the opening frame.
Things we could get used to: THIS ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/FYlDGpwmx8
— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) November 14, 2021
Michael Mersch added his seventh goal of the season with 34 seconds remaining in the first period off of a faceoff in the Monsters’ zone. Mersch gained position on Monsters D Tim Berni and unloaded an unreal shot on Berube, who could not make a save on the howitzer from a tough angle. The Amerks outshot Cleveland 12-7 in the first.
Perhaps the second period was the period that UPL earned his shutout the most. Cleveland won the second period in all areas except for where it counts – the scoreboard. A number of great opportunities for the Monsters were turned away by Luukkonen, but the save of the game came when Tyler Angle fired in a shot from the blue line that bounced out from in front of the net right on the tape of Carson Meyer‘s stick. UPL robbed Friday’s hero.
UPL said nope ?♂️ pic.twitter.com/tI1MMvPSak
— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) November 14, 2021
When the puck is breaking your way, sometimes all you have to do is be in the right place at the right time, and that’s precisely how Rochester extended their lead to 3-0 at the 13:57 of the second period. Berube made a pedestrian save, and instead of holding on to freeze the puck, Berube couldn’t control the puck as it slid toward Berni. Peterka picked off the pass and found a wide-open Jack Quinn at the top of the left faceoff circle. Quinn’s shot made it through Berube, who swept the puck behind him and into the back of the net for Quinn’s ninth goal of the season.
Cleveland needed to find a solution to their UPL problem in a period where they could not crack the code. It wasn’t for lack of trying – the Monsters had numerous opportunities in the third, including a power play at the 6:41 mark as Oskari Laaksonen was sent to the box for interference. Although the Amerks were outshot 13-6 in the final period, they didn’t allow any shots during the Laaksonen penalty, killing it off and halting any charge the Monsters were looking to make.
Brandon Biro picked up his second assist of the night when he found a streaking Casey Fitzgerald fresh off the bench, who skated into the slot and found an opening on Berube’s high glove side to give the Amerks a 4-0 lead with 8:34 remaining in the contest. The Amerks played keep away for the rest of the game, outshooting Cleveland 4-2 after Fitzgerald’s goal and moved to 7-4-0-0 on the season. Cleveland fell to 5-3-1-3.
Three Amerks found the score sheet multiple times in Saturday’s contest. Biro (0-2-2), Quinn (1-1-2), and Peterka (1-1-2) were electric, and Krebs – who registered an assist on Peterka’s game-winning goal – was outstanding in this one, redeeming himself for some plays he may have wanted back in the first game between the two teams this weekend.
The Amerks will take the ice again on Wednesday, as they’ll take on the division-leading Utica Comets, who may come into the ROC 10-0-0-0 barring a loss to a struggling Belleville team on Sunday. Wednesday’s matchup takes on some extra meaning, as Utica may come in with an opportunity to tie the AHL record for the longest winning streak to start a season at 11 games. Who owns the current record of 11 games, you may ask? The 1984-1985 Rochester Americans.
The Amerks have the team to go toe-to-toe with the Comets on any given night, and you have to imagine that if all things play out according to Utica’s plan, Wednesday’s game will be a must-watch.
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