Ullmark excelling in difficult season for Amerks

February 23, 2017
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The Rochester Americans were in Buffalo on Wednesday night to host a regular season game against the Utica Comets at the KeyBank Center. A number of Sabres prospects were in town for a chance to play in the building where they hope to make it their future home in the National Hockey League.

A number of players in action on Wednesday have already gotten some time in the NHL with the big club, including Amerks goalie, Linus Ullmark. Ullmark, 23, was able to play 20 games with the Sabres last season going 8-10-2 with a 2.60 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. Ullmark has been called up twice this season to Buffalo, but did not see any game action in each of his call ups.

The 2016-17 season has not been kind to the Amerks as they sit with a 22-29-0-2 record and are currently sitting in last place in the North Division. As of now, the Amerks sit nine points behind a playoff spot, which is currently being held by the St. John's Ice Caps.

While the Amerks have struggled this season to string together some consistency, Ullmark has been able to consistently help give the Amerks a chance to compete every single game.

"[The season] has been a little bit too much up and down, but I think I've kept my composure every night and have tried to be at my best every day and every night when we're practicing and playing," said Ullmark following a 3-2 overtime victory over the Comets.

Wednesday was Ullmark's 41st game played this season, which is the most in the American Hockey League this season. The Comets peppered Ullmark with 39 shots on the night, including 16 shots alone in the third period. However, this is nothing new for Ullmark as he has faced a total of 1,283 shots this season to lead the AHL. That's an average of 31.3 shots faced per game. And while Ullmark's 2.85 goals against average and .911 save percentage is not the prettiest of stats this season, he is fourth in the AHL with 20 wins.

"We have given him lots of work," said Amerks head coach Dan Lambert following the win. "There's no shortage of work there, both in the amount of shots he we give up and the games he has played."

"Right now at this time of year, I'd like to say that the end result is what we need and that was in our favor. Certainly it wasn't a Picasso out there. We know we can play a lot better. I thought we turned the puck over a ton. I don't know if it was nerves of being on the Buffalo ice and trying to play an NHL type of cute game, but in the end the result was there."

Although Ullmark was tested often and early on Wednesday night, he felt comfortable and focused for the task at hand.

"We play a very good system when we're at our best," Ullmark said. "It make it easier for me to be out there and see the pucks because we're boxing them out and keeping them to the outside. But I'm always out there battling every night and every day just trying to be better every single minute I'm out on the ice. That's been going good this season, and I think I'm raising my level every day."

Ullmark was a sixth round pick of the Sabres back in the 2012 NHL Draft, and came over to North America from Sweden for the first time last year. He was thrown into the fire quite early after Robin Lehner went down during the first game of the season with a high ankle sprain. With the help of former Sabres goalie Chad Johnson, Ullmark learned the ropes quickly on how to become a better professional in North America.

"I had a really good, how should I say, teacher in Chad Johnson," Ullmark said. "He was a really good friend and partner with me during those games, and he really helped me a lot during those games. He gave me small tips here and there, and we were just having a good time. That's what I'm trying to do here [in Rochester]."

"Last year was his first year in North America, and he had a lot of learning to do as far as the schedule and preparation," Lambert said. "Probably in the last 20 games last year, he would be the first to admit that it didn't finish great for him... Certainly he's trying to make sure that doesn't happen again. The way he's doing that is that every single day he's trying to be the hardest worker in practice. He's done a great job of it, and it's translated into his game."

With 23 games left in the season, the Amerks are not out of things yet but desperately need to string together some wins in order to get back in the playoff hunt. Ullmark knows what is at stake for his team, and he will continue to strive for the best to keep his team's season going.

"Every win now is a huge win," Ullmark said. "There's not a lot of games left. You'd think it's a lot of games, but it's not and we need a big push to be able to go to the playoffs. That's what we're aiming for. So we just need to keep this train moving, and keep on winning these games coming up."

The Amerks will next play Friday night back in Rochester when they host the Syracuse Crunch from the Blue Cross Arena.