(WGR 550) – Matt Savoie had his first practice with the Rochester Americans on Monday. The 19-year-old just finished his WHL Playoffs run with the Winnipeg Ice, where he scored 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in 19 games.
Amerks head coach Seth Appert told reporters on Monday they’re going to get him ready for the next level.
"He’s had a busy last couple of months," said Appert on Monday. "A deep playoff run where he was playing 20-to-25 minutes a night, then he traveled back on Saturday, and then traveled from Winnipeg to here last night, and then he’ll travel to Hershey. There’s a lot he’s been going through, and right now, we want to get him acclimated to the organization and our culture. Get him comfortable with the guys and our team play, and then when those things start to happen, we anticipate him being available for us at some point in this series. When that is, it’s hard to predict."
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For two seasons, Appert and his coaching staff have done a great job of preparing young players to be ready to play at this level. With Savoie, he wants to put him in situations to be successful while helping the team be successful.
For the other prospects in town, he wants to implement the right mentality even if they may not get any playing time.
"[Olivier] Nadeau’s here fighting for ice-time, and if [Noah] Ostlund was healthy, he would’ve been the same," Appert said. "Matt Savoie is here to play, and when we get him acclimated, we’ll see him in the lineup."
Rochester goes into this series with six-straight wins, and Appert knows who has earned the right to play.
"As a coach, when your team’s playing this good, you have a lot of loyalty to the guys that got to this spot as well. So we’ve got a really, really close group in there, and I think that’s been the strength of our group all year," he said. "That’s allowed us to overcome a lot of adversity, so as excited as I am about Nadeau and Savoie, as a coach, you have a lot of appreciation and loyalty for the guys that have been fighting for you all year."
Linus Weissbach missed the last two games with injury, but has a good chance to return for Game 1 of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday in Hershey against the Bears.
"There’s a few final things we need to check the box on, but everything points to that he should be able to go," Appert said.
This is the first seven-game series the Amerks have been in over the past two seasons. Appert isn’t worried about it.
"Realistically, probably not much, you do have a little more time to recover from a poor start potentially, or get caught from a great start. We had a bad start in Syracuse, and we recovered from that," he said.
"I can tell you this, our approach isn’t any different. All we're going to do is get prepared and try to win one game, and the best way to try to win one game is to have a couple of great days of practice, and focus in on the habits that we need to have to give us a chance in Game 1. We haven’t talked about a seven-game series, because all I want our guys to worry about is playing our best in Game 1."
Hershey has only three Washington Capitals draft picks since 2016 in their lineup. Defenseman Vincent Iorio was taken in the second round of the 2021 NHL Draft, Connor McMichael was a first-round pick in 2019, and Aliaksei Protas was a third-round pick in the same draft.
The Bears' top two scorers this season were 30-year-old Michael Sgarbossa and 29-year-old Michael Vecchione. Sgarbossa has played 65 NHL games, while Vecchione has played three.
That is the exact opposite of the Amerks.
"They have some really good prospects, and three or four pretty darn good prospects that are high picks," Appert said. "Certainly they’ve been driven a lot by [Joe] Snively, [Sam] Anas, Vecchione, [Dylan] McIlrath and Sgarbossa. These are really elite, veteran, savvy American League players, and you see it in the calmness of their play in big moments. You see it on the power play where they can really snap the puck around. But this is going to be the best team that we’ve played."
Hunter Shepard has played all seven of Hershey’s games in goal. He’s 6-1-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. In the regular season, the free agent goalie with no NHL experience played 33 games, going 20-8-5 with a 2.18 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.
The Bears' other goalie is Montreal Canadiens 2013 second-round pick Zach Fucale. He played 38 games this season, going 21-11-4 with a 2.54 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage.
If you want to watch the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals in Hershey on Tuesday and Thursday, they will be available locally on MSG.