Rochester Americans coach Seth Appert has encouraged his young group over the course of the season to be a team that plays for each other rather than just a team that plays with each other.

As the Amerks open up a three-game homestand on Wednesday against Hartford, Appert has seen his players take on this mindset as they emphasize supporting each other through adversity to find continued success.

“I think that teams that play for each other, they stand up for each other,” Appert told reporters on Monday. “Teams that play for each other, they block shots for each other, they take hits to make plays for each other. And those things are things we preach all year, but they have to earn that together. And now we’re starting to get to that point that you start to feel that.”

Rochester currently sits in third place in the North Division standings with 66 points in 2023-24, just one point ahead of fourth-place Belleville and fifth-place Toronto and four points ahead of the Laval Rocket, who sit in sixth. The top-five finishers in the North Division will advance to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The Amerks, who have just 13 games remaining in the regular season, will continue their push to the playoffs on Wednesday, which Appert said will have to be earned in a highly competitive division.

“First of all, we have to earn our way in because our division is the best division in the league right now in terms of the depth,” he said. “Our team in last place just swept Hershey over the last two weeks. Our division is a meat grinder right now and that’s a good thing. It just makes us better because every night is a complete battle. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do still to try to earn our right into the Calder Cup Playoffs.”

Mason Jobst has paced the Amerks with 42 points (18+24) in 51 games this season while Lukas Rousek has recorded 38 points (10+28) in 48 games. Rousek currently remains in Buffalo with defenseman Kale Clague as the Sabres continue to make a playoff push of their own.

In the meantime, Rochester has seen production from Buffalo’s young prospects, including rookie forward Viktor Neuchev.

Neuchev recorded a goal and an assist in the Amerks’ 7-3 loss to Toronto on Saturday and leads all Amerks rookies with 25 points (10+15) in 45 games this season. The Sabres’ third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft has posted eight goals and 12 assists in his last 24 games.

“Neuchev’s a very smart, creative player,” Appert said. “We’ve talked a lot about Neuchev – how the second half of the year after he made some strong adjustments in his daily work and preparation, his game is just going [up] right now, which is awesome. He’s playing hard, he’s on the puck for an undersized guy and then he has the puck more, and then his creativity and his skill can take over.”

The Amerks have recorded a 5-4-1-0 record in their last 10 games and will lean on prospects like Brandon Biro, Isak Rosen, and Jiri Kulich down the stretch to secure a playoff spot.

Biro has tallied five points (2+3) in his last five games while Rosen has recorded a goal and an assist in his last five contests. Kulich, who is tied for the team lead with 18 goals in the campaign, has eight points (2+6) in his last 12 games.

“Biro’s one of our best players. So, he’s a driver for us, and Biro really thrives with intelligent players,” Appert said.

“I’ve been saying this for a long time, Kuli and Rosey’s game is better than ever. For some reason, pucks aren’t going in. Some of it is how good the division is and you’re playing Syracuse and Utica 12 times, and everybody knows each other and it’s just hard to create. But I really like Rosey and Kuli’s game. They’re playing great defensively, they’re out there 5-on-6. They’re doing a lot of great things." 

Appert said one of the keys to finding success in the final 13 games of the season will be to play a smart game defensively to limit the opponents’ chances.

“We’re talented enough offensively that we believe we’re gonna score, but we don’t want to hand out free offense to our opponent because at this time of the year if you do that, you usually aren’t winning games,” he said.

Prospects Nikita Novikov and Ryan Johnson will look to make an impact in Rochester’s push. Novikov has 17 points (2+15) in 52 with the Amerks while Johnson has appeared in five games since being loaned to Rochester by the Sabres on March 8.

“There’s some challenges defensively for Novi at times as a young defenseman in the second-best league in the World, as you’d expect,” Appert said. “But offensively, his instincts and his mind are really good. He puts himself in a lot of good spots.”

Rochester hosts Hartford at 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday before welcoming division opponents Toronto and Utica on Friday and Sunday, respectively.