Among the early takeaways from the first two months of this AHL season is the fact you can never count out the Manchester Monarchs. With the cards stacked against them, they have consistently found ways to win.
Heading into Friday night, they were first in the Eastern Conference. Sporting a better winning percentage though and sitting only three points behind Manchester (due to playing three fewer games), the Springfield Falcons would be the toughest test for coach Mark Morris’ club to date.
The Monarchs caught a lucky break, as Tim Erixon was unable to make it to the game in time after being returned by the Falcons’ NHL affiliate, the Columbus Blue Jackets. In just 10 AHL games, the former first round pick of the Calgary Flames was tied for the team points lead with 13.
As Manchester has often done this season, they were the first to strike, scoring a goal 9:05 into the first period. With the puck in the left offensive corner, winger Hunter Bishop dug it out and cycled the vulcanized rubber down to Robbie Czarnick. Bishop then went to the slot and set himself up for a one-timer attempt, which was redirected in front by Max Kitsyn. The Russian winger’s second goal of the year gave him markers in back-to-back games.
Later in the period, Springfield got on the board with a goal from Ryan Craig. The left winger took a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone from Cody Bass, entered the offensive zone, and beat Monarchs goalie JF Berube 5-hole with a simple wrister. After scoring, Craig was taken out by a diving Chris Huxley and crashed into Berube.
Having just tied the game, the Falcons quickly gained the lead by tallying another goal just 25 seconds later. The scoring play started as Bass took a slapshot, which was blocked in front of the net by his teammate Tim Miller. As Berube worked to cover the rebound, Monarchs’ captain Andrew Campbell accidently pushed Miller on top of his goaltender, allowing Jonathan Marchessault to backhand the puck into an open net.
The Falcons would extend their lead to two in the second period, while on the powerplay. Berube successfully stopped multiple stuff-in attempts but failed to cover the puck. Eventually it worked its way to the point where Cody Goloubef’s shot beat a screened Berube cleanly.
Entering the zone with nearly five minutes left in the middle frame, Brandon Kozun fed center Jordan Weal from the blueline, and he drove to the net with speed. Having the puck on his backhand, Weal made a quick move to his forehand and scored far side, past Falcon’s goalie Jeremy Smith. Weal’s third of the year was assisted by Kozun and Nick Deslauriers.
Down a goal entering the third period, the Monarchs came close to tying the affair three times. At one point, Andy Andreoff fired a laser of a wrister, which beat Smith and looked to many in Verizon Wireless Arena to have gone in and out of the net quickly. Much to the dismay of the hometown crowd, the play was called ‘no goal’ on the ice and didn’t go to review at the next whistle.
Manchester finally broke through with 5:23 left in regulation. Springfield’s Andrew Joudrey had the puck on his stick in front of the net, but Kozun snuck up from behind and lifted his blade off the ice. Deslauriers then quickly grabbed the puck in the slot and shot it into the back of the net, tying the game at 3-3.
In overtime, Deslauriers would strike once again. Going back to retrieve a puck, defenseman Patrick McNeill fell down just inside his own blueline. Monarchs defenseman Vincent LoVerde swooped in, picked up the loose puck, and saucered a pass to Deslauriers in front of the net. The multi-talented Kings prospect successfully knocked the puck down out of the air, dragged it to his forehand, and beat Smith for the second time of the game, securing the 4-3 win in the extra period.
With a goal and an assist in the game, Weal overtook Kozun for the team points lead at 19. The North Vancouver-born center has been a consistent threat all year. While the Monarchs have dealt with injuries and players being called up, Weal has continued to shine. The bread and butter of his game is his playmaking ability. He sees the ice incredibly well and consistently feeds teammates with passes that lead to high-quality scoring chances. Though he only has three goals on the year, Weal has consistently been the biggest offensive threat for coach Morris’ team.
Deslauriers’ three point night was one of his stronger efforts on the year. Known as a physical player, Deslauriers loves to get in on the forecheck, pressure the defense, and throw his weight around whenever possible. Playing left wing for the first time as a pro, the former QMJHL defenseman credits his linemates for part of his success.
“Like I say to everybody, in every interview, just playing with that line is amazing. You can see the scoresheet and everything, (and) they’re always on it. It’s good to fill in a little bit, but I have to give credit to those two little guys. They work their ass off. It’s unbelievable playing with them,” Deslauriers remarked, while purposefully working in a joke about his linemates’ smaller stature.
Though not his best game of the year, Berube played solid once again for the Monarchs. The former Montreal Juniors goalie likely should have stopped the first goal and failed to cover a loose puck that lead to the third goal against him, but he made key saves and kept the game at a score where Manchester was able to orchestrate a comeback. After the game, Berube had ice on his neck from being run over multiple times throughout the night.
Morris indicated that facing a second straight weekend with three games in consecutive days, Aaron Dell may work his way into the net and thus give Berube a night off. Dell, who played college hockey at the University of North Dakota with Derek Forbort, has yet to enter a game after signing a tryout contract with the team.
The Monarchs will travel to Hartford to play the Wolf Pack on Saturday at 7 PM.
Line combinations and defensive pairings vs Springfield were as follows:
Nick Deslauriers – Jordan Weal – Brandon Kozun
Scott Sabourin – Andy Andreoff -Sean Backman
Hunter Bishop – Robbie Czarnick – Max Kitsyn
A.J. Gale – Cameron Burt – Zach O’Brien
Andrew Campbell – Derek Forbort
Justin Schultz – Chris Huxley
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
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