By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
The American Hockey League has billed itself as the world’s best development league for better than two decades, and the accomplishments of the young stars are front-and-center when it comes to showcasing talent.
But the veteran leaders remain a critical part of the development process, which is why Rochester Americans coach Seth Appert is so happy to have Michael Mersch on his roster.
The seventh-year veteran forward has been the Amerks most consistent player, is one point off the team scoring lead (7-8-15) and is unquestionably the veteran to emulate.
“He’s unbelievable; I absolutely love him and I consider it a real privilege to get to coach in my first year of coaching pro hockey,” Appert said Friday night following a 7-5 loss to the Utica Comets, when Mersch scored two goals and set up two others.
“We want to establish a culture here to help build a culture in the Sabres organization,” Appert said. “We need to have work ethic, we need to have professionalism, we need to have competitiveness and passion every day, no matter the circumstance.”
Mersch joined the organization as a free agent in the offseason. He has played for the Manchester Monarchs, winning a Calder Cup in 2015, Ontario Reign and Texas Stars, piling up 128 goals, 131 assists and 259 points in 397 career AHL games. That includes four 20-plus goal seasons.
But it’s his leadership that Appert really likes.
“If Jack Quinn (the Sabres top prospect) can emulate what Mike Mersch does on a daily basis and how he goes about his business, the work he puts in before practice, on his body, in the shooting room, how intense he practices,” Appert said. “Every rep is life or death to Mike Mersch. And then how competitive he plays.”
Mersch just says he’s returning the favor he learned from older players when he was the youngster coming up in the Los Angeles Kings organization. And learning from the mistake he made.
“I was in their shoes at one time,” said Mersch, who played 17 games for the Kings (1 goal, 2 assists) in the 2015-16 season. “You learn from the things that you didn’t do when you were in their position and try to teach them to have that mindset where you have to come to play every day.”
That he has continued to abide by his work ethic and to play every game as though it would impact playoff positioning is a testament to what Mersch is about as a player.
“He’s so impressive to be around on a daily basis, and for a young prospects, and a lot of them are in Buffalo now, and a lot of them are succeeding in Buffalo because they had an opportunity to watch guys like Michael Mersch be a pro,” Appert said.
The Amerks dug an early hole against the much more talented Comets, falling behind 3-0 in the first 27 minutes. They continually chipped away but never were able to get closer than two goals, trailing 4-2, 5-3, 6-4 and finally 7-5.
Brett Murray, Brendan Warren and Dominic Franco also scored goals for the Amerks, who have lost five straight and now have a 8-10-2-1 record.