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How to watch the Rochester Americans' season opener on Friday

Plus storylines to follow in 2021

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

The Rochester Americans open their season against the Utica Comets at Blue Cross Arena on Friday night, but you can watch for free from the comfort of your home. 

All 19 AHL games on the schedule from Friday, Feb. 5 to Monday, Feb. 8 will be free to access on AHLTV.com, including the Amerks' opener against the Comets.

To watch, visit AHLTV.com and create an account. No subscription or purchase is necessary. 

Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. In the meantime, here are some storylines to watch for. 

 

Behind the bench

Seth Appert was hired as the 33rd head coach in Amerks history in August after spending the past three seasons coaching the country's top junior talent with the U.S. National Team Development Program. Prior to that, he spent 11 seasons as head coach for Rensselaer Polytech Institute. 

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams selected Appert because of their shared philosophy on development. The two spoke of role specialization, open communication and having prospects earn high-leverage opportunities to prepare them for the next level. 

Video: Behind The Scenes: Kevyn Adams hires Seth Appert

"I really do believe when you're put in challenging situations, that's how you get better," Adams said. "You may not always be successful, but taking that faceoff with 30 seconds left up a goal trying to protect a lead is something you have to feel, you have to go through that. That's something we have to look to build organizationally."

Appert's coaching staff features a pair of players who carved out long NHL careers of their own in former Sabres Adam Mair and Mike Weber. 

 

Incoming prospects

The 2020-21 roster features an influx of young talent headlined by 2020 first-round pick Jack Quinn, who joined the Amerks last week after opening the NHL season on Buffalo's taxi squad while he recovered from an injury. Quinn will be unavailable Friday due to quarantine requirements.

In the meantime - and in a nod to Appert's aforementioned communication - Quinn has been texting his head coach regarding the games of NHL players he's studied during quarantine. 

"He reminds me a lot of the guys I've had over the last four years at the national program, some of those high-end guys," Appert told The Instigators on Friday. "He's a hockey junky. He lives it, he breathes it." 

In addition to Quinn, the forward group features Finnish centerman Arttu Ruotsalainen and 2018 fourth-round pick Matej Pekar. Ruotsalainen opened the season in camp with the Sabres after a dominant start to his campaign in Finland's top pro league, where he scored a league-high 16 goals and 27 points in 19 games before the pandemic halted play. 

Pekar, a fan favorite at past development camps for his physical, agitating style, opens his first pro season in North America after two OHL campaigns. 

Mattias Samuelsson (second round, 2018) and Oskari Laaksonen (third round, 2017) join the team on defense after signing entry-level deals during the offseason. Samuelsson played two seasons at Western Michigan University and twice represented Team USA at the World Junior Championship. Laaksonen has four professional seasons under his belt in Finland. 

Watch: Youtube Video

 

Returning players

The AHL roster could be more fluid than ever due to the addition of the NHL's taxi squad. Forwards Jean-Sebastien Dea and C.J. Smith, for example, were called up for the Sabres' scheduled road trip to New York and Boston (which has since been postponed), meaning neither player will be in the lineup Friday. 

Key returnees who will be in the lineup Friday include Rasmus Asplund, who has already appeared in a game with the Sabres this season, and fellow forward Andrew Oglevie. Oglevie, now in his third pro season, will serve as an alternate captain. 

Defenseman Jacob Bryson, meanwhile, returns after an excellent rookie campaign that saw him tally 27 points (4+23) in 61 games.

 

UPL's development

One storyline for fans to follow will be the progression of 2017 second-round pick Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who is one of three goaltenders on the AHL roster along with veterans Dustin Tokarski and Michael Houser. 

Luukkonen, 21, turned heads in 2018-19 with a dominant season for Sudbury that earned him Player of the Year honors from the OHL and a gold-medal performance with Finland at World Juniors. He turned pro last season, posting a .912 save percentage in 23 games with ECHL Cincinnati with a mark of .874 in 10 appearances with Rochester. 

The goalie began this season playing professionally in Finland, where he had a .908 save percentage in 13 games.

"He's looked very good," Appert said. "He's had a good year in Finland before this, so he's had an advantage on other guys [because] he's been playing. His habits look strong, his movements are strong in the net. I've coached against him internationally and he's made some great strides already. He's very powerful in the crease, has a really demanding presence. 

"But he's young. Goaltenders take time. As good of a prospect as he is, as talented as he is, if he's at the other two positions he's probably in the National League by now. But with goalies we have to make sure we do this the right way and bring him along properly."

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