Paetsch and Taylor Face Their Biggest Challenge Yet
When Nathan Paetsch got the call from Randy Sexton he knew he wasn’t being offered a job based on talent alone. At 34, Paetsch is nearing the end of his playing career. He feels his body has a couple of quality seasons left in it, after which he hopes to transition to coaching. Paetsch’s career has been filled with highs and lows. He’s seen success on the ice and he’s faced some demons off the ice. He spent a handful of seasons playing in the NHL for the Buffalo Sabres and has established himself as a reliable and successful veteran in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins. During his time with the Griffins, Paetsch won two Calder Cup’s—one in 2012-13 and the second just last season. In five seasons with the Griffins, Paetsch averaged 4 goals and 25 assists per season. While his stats tapered in his last season, he helped shape the younger players into winners.
Chris Taylor was always a fringe NHL’er. He put up good numbers in the AHL with the Amerks (some seasons, great) but he never managed to carve out a permanent position on the Sabres roster. Taylor built a successful AHL career, playing nine seasons for the Amerks. During his time with the Amerks he averaged 19 goals and 38 assists per season. Taylor also served as the Amerks captain and became a fan favorite. Shortly after his playing career ended, Taylor transitioned to coaching—serving as assistant coach for the Amerks from 2013 through 2016 and as assistant coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season. Last season, the WBS Pens made it into the playoffs—but lost in the first round. Now he’s tasked with leading the Amerks as head coach. Taylor knows the AHL and he’s had a taste of the NHL. He needs to apply his leadership skills to restore the Amerks as a winning organization. This is his opportunity to build NHL talent as a coach. He’s still looking for his first Calder Cup win which should make him eager to succeed in the big chair.
The last time the Amerks saw any real playoff success was in the 2003-04 season. At that point Paetsch and Taylor were teammates. Paetsch had just made it to the AHL and Taylor was coming off a 54 game stint with the Sabres. The Amerks made it to the 3rd round of the playoffs before losing to the Milwaukee Admirals.
A lot has changed since Paetsch and Taylor played together. When they were signed to the Amerks, players expected to make the playoffs and strived to reach the finals. Now young players view Rochester as little more than a stop along their development path. This was painfully obvious during Monday morning’s media session with Brendan Guhle. The media asked him repeatedly if he knew how important winning was to Rochester and if he knew about Rochester’s hockey culture. He answered no—which was troubling—but then Guhle mentioned how Paetsch keeps telling him about what it was like. Paetsch conveying what hockey means for Rochester to a budding star like Guhle might seem insignificant but it’s a huge step in the rebirth of Rochester’s hockey culture. Taylor is definitely pushing players in training camp. The next step is to teach what it means to be an Amerk—what it means to wear the Amerks crest. It’s up to Paetsch and Taylor, who played when Rochester’s hockey culture existed, to restore that culture. It’s a monumental task. They both know they are carrying the weight of the team (and the city) on their shoulders. Now they have to deliver. The excited cheers of fans have quieted in recent years but the fans responsible for those cheers are still present. All they need is a flame to reignite those cheers. Once the players believe in winning the fans will start to believe again. Fans will return to the barn. The halls will once again echo with the chant of “Let’s Go Amerks!!!”