Skating backwards to defend a singles dash, Mats Lindgren had covered Jerry Kulic’s only pass option during early practice morning skating at the Buffalo Sabers on Saturday at LECOM Harbourcenter.
All Lindgren can do is watch Kulic slide the ball off the crossbar and into the net, providing his teammates and coaches with another indication that he is ready to come back from the fear of injury that kept him out of the opener to challenge the prospects.
“Oh, very good,” said Lindgren, still in disbelief at what happened on the ice. “He fell on me 2-in-1, I think in the second workout or something. Snipe it, tape down. There wasn’t anything I could really do, I guess.”
Kolish was not done there. He displayed his combination of speed, quick hands and a shot that Rochester coach Seth Appert described as “intimidating” during the Sabers 7-4 win over the odds of the New Jersey Devils Saturday night.
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Kulich’s dramatic talent didn’t cause the audible gasping she did during development camp. He scored a free-goal, added assists, and although he showed some rust from lost time in camp, there were flashes of a dynamic skill set that convinced the Cypress management that he was ready to play for America this season.
Ethan Ritchie, Philip Cederqvist, Alexander Kisakov, Spencer Sofa, Isaac Rosen and Matt Savoy also scored goals for Cypress, who received 27 saves from goalkeeper Beck Warm to advance to 2-0 in the highly anticipated tournament.
Kulish, 18, was notable throughout the match. Centering a streak with Lukas Rosk on the left wing and Rosen on the right, Kulic skated around the defenders and showed poise with the puck. The trio combined two goals and six points. But playing Kulich without a disc is what will help him transition to professional hockey in North America. Collish is fierce in the examination and works tirelessly to regain control. The Saber helped out with the murder penalty in the third period Saturday.
“He’s a dynamic player,” said Appert, who leads swordsmen in challenging prospects. “He’s a scorer not just a scorer, right? I saw that in the World Junior Championships as a double under the age, he’s also a watcher. He’s the guy who goes and chases pucks, he gets into puck fights, he takes pucks into tricky areas.
“He’s built differently than most 18-year-olds, so we think he’s up for a challenge in the NHL, or whatever else he might be. But we believe in what we’re trying to do through the development process. Nobody invests more in their development than We are, so when we have talented young players like him, Rosen and Kisakov, we’d rather be the one who develops them than trust someone else who isn’t affiliated with our organization.”
Twice, Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams attempted to trade in the first round to pick Kulich, starting with the 17th pick. However, the deal did not materialize, despite Adams and his hockey operations crew being forced to sit down and hope the Czech center would be available when he was Buffalo clock again that night in Montreal.
To the surprise of those who watched Kulich at the IIHF World U-18 Championship, Kulich fell all the way to the Sabers at 28 overall. Appert also knows, or better than anyone else, how to properly assess a player’s performance in a tournament. He was part of Team USA’s coaching staff at two Under-18s, including as the team’s head coach in 2018. Appert was “stunned” by Kulic’s performance.
As the captain of the Czech national team, Kulic was named Player of the Tournament after leading all players in goals (9) and points (11) across six matches.
“Honestly, I was surprised he fell to where he fell,” Appert added. “And then I felt that way in the development camp. Most scorers at that young age don’t play hard. That’s the truth. They just don’t. They don’t know how to work. They don’t know how to check things out, take charge defensively, because they were better.” The players are in their teams for their whole lives and score so many goals that they are allowed to get away with things. He has a work ethic and a so-called ‘B’ game about him. It also gives us a lot of confidence about bringing him here this year, that he won’t feel overwhelmed.”
But Kulish is different. He proved again last month at the IIHF World Junior Championships, featuring the world’s best under-18 players, that he can win puck fights and gain space in the attacking zone against older and stronger opponents. His eight points in seven matches tied Jan Misak, the 20-year-old Canadian next, to lead the team.
Still unsure of where he will play this season, Kulish told reporters that his focus is on improving “every day” to try to make it into the NHL. “Yes, that’s my goal,” he said. Kulish, contrary to most expectations of his time, seemed to have the necessary strength. At 6 feet 170 pounds, he played 57 professional matches for the Czechs. His mod will be the same as that of JJ Petrka, who had some challenges with America last season, but by improving the defense, he scored 25 games from January 1 through the end of the season.
“When he gets the disc a lot, the players we’re talking about are special with the disc,” Appert said. “But how good they were at getting it back is what really started to ignite their offensive game.”
Here are other notes from the game:
Lukas Rousek looks like an early favorite to stay around NHL training camp longer than expected. Once again, Rusk, 23, was a force on the disc below the hash marks and his passes to the Blue Line sent the Devils into a scramble, including a Ritchie goal in the first half.
Nerves are inevitable for prospects at this event. They are trying to make a strong impression, and in Kisakov’s case, this event is his precursor to the pace of the National Hockey League. The 18-year-old winger looked more comfortable on the ice, especially as he bounced off the left flank to break away from defender Riley Walsh and beat goalkeeper Nico Dawes with a wrist shot to the far post to make it 3-1.
Savoy finally broke through when he scored an important safety goal to give Saber a 6-4 lead, with 6:54 remaining in the organisation.
Oskar Laksonen responded in the first half when the Devils hit the net after the whistle. It must have been a welcome sight by the Rochester coaching staff, leading Laksonen to get more involved in the defensive zone.
Laksonen must show the management this season that his development is heading up. In the third round in 2017, Laksonen had 51 points in 99 regular season games with Rochester, but was a healthy scratch for most playoffs due to his defensive habits.
“He knows it’s a big season. He really bought in,” said Rochester assistant coach Mike Webber. “And obviously, last year last year. That’s the kind of message that was. And you’ll have a chance when the seasons are over and you start to really work on yourself, find that mental toughness, work on your strength and speed and agility—all of those things—and come camp and have a whole new season.”
With winger Josh Bloom (upper body) not available, Lake View’s Declan McDonnell sprinted into the Cypress lineup and skated on the left wing next to Nolan Burke and Emmett Sproul. McDonnell, 20, also skated with the club at development camp. He was not signed by Tampa Bay after being selected in the seventh round of the 2020 draft, despite his exceptional playing in the Ontario Hockey League.
The Horizon Challenge continues Sunday as Senators from Ottawa and Montreal Canadiens face each other at Noon at the LECOM Harbourcenter. Sword practice is scheduled for 10:45 AM