Sometimes, life kicks you when you’re already down. Having lost their entire first line of Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey, and Tanner Pearson, as well as starting goalie Martin Jones, Manchester was dealt even more setbacks Saturday night. The team was without four additional players, as Nick Shore (foot), Brian O’Neill (broken hand), Ian O’Connor (high ankle sprain) and Zach O’Brien were all unable to play.
Thus, the Monarchs only iced 16 skaters, with coach Mark Morris forced to play nine forwards and seven defenseman. Despite all the roster troubles, they still found a way to win, claiming their second victory against the Norfolk Admirals this week by a final score of 3-2.
Just over a minute into the game, the Monarchs struck first as Brandon Kozun tallied his third goal of the year. Winger Nick Deslauriers threw the puck towards the net, and with Jordan Weal and an Admiral defenseman tied up in front of the net, Kozun was able to bury the loose puck over a sprawling John Gibson. Assists were credited to Deslauriers and defenseman Derek Forbort.
Manchester extended their lead to two when Deslauriers scored his sixth of the year off of a beautiful play from Weal. The dynamic center danced around a defender, found a wide open Deslauriers, and the former defenseman buried it top shelf with a perfect shot. The goal came on the power play, with Andy Andreoff picking up the second assist.
Norfolk broke the shutout of goalie JF Berube in the second period when Alex Grant took a slapper on the power play, which was tipped home by Chris Wagner. Berube got a piece of the deflection but not enough to keep it out.
After a Colin Miller hooking penalty five minutes in to the third period, the Monarchs looked for a big kill to preserve their lead. What they got was even better, as Kozun scored his second of the game. As the Admirals tried to enter the zone on the power play, they were cut off along the boards by captain Andrew Campbell. Soup, as he is called by his teammates, cleared the puck up to Weal, who skated along the right boards and found Kozun cutting to the net for the deflection. The shorthanded goal gave the Monarchs their second two goal lead of the game.
Still shorthanded, the hometown team put themselves behind the proverbial eight ball when Sean Backman was also called for a hook. The penalty gave the visitors a two man advantage for a full minute and eight seconds but they were unable to score until after both penalties ended. A mere 12 seconds after Backman left the box, Maxime Sauve fed a pass to the slot where Antoine Laganiere buried his first professional goal.
While the first two periods of play were dictated by the Monarchs, the Admirals took over in the third. Berube bailed his team out and made key saves in the final frame, as his team won in front of a very supportive hometown crowd.
Making only his fourth start of the year, Berube was once again tremendous in goal. At times he lost track of the puck but whenever he did, he was able to recover very well. He challenged shooters at the right times and played conservatively when needed. The French Canadian made key saves at important times and showed that he is more than capable of carrying the ball while Jones is up with the Kings.
“Not really. I’ve been working hard in practices so I knew my chance would come and you never want someone to get injured but sometimes it’s those kind of situations where you get to play. Obviously for me it’s a great opportunity to prove what I’m capable of,” said Berube on if it’s been an adjustment taking over for the departed Jones.
With only three lines to rotate, Morris was counting on the remaining forwards to carry the load. Of those remaining, the biggest offensive threats were Kozun and Weal and both showed why in the victory.
In Wednesday’s match versus the Admirals, Kozun had plenty of chances but couldn’t seem to finish any of them. which he credited it to “bad puck luck”. With two goals in the game, and being absolutely robbed of a third, he was glad to find himself on the score sheet at the end of the night.
“Definitely. Credit my linemates. Wealer made a really nice play on that second goal and [I] could have had a third one there. The goalie made a nice [save], so [I’ll] forget about it. It’s better that we got the win, so that’s all that matters,” said Kozun of the two goal performance.
It was yet another solid performance by Weal. All season long he has been a consistent threat. Solid play in all three zones and great vision and play making ability have Weal tied with Kozun for the team lead in points at 16. Last year, the WHL alumni scored 33 points and is on pace to beat that by midseason at his current pace.
“Yeah I’ve definitely made strides. I think last year in the second half I got a lot of confidence. When the lockout ended, some guys got some opportunities to play. I think my confidence was lacking a little in the first half and it definitely showed but as soon as I got to play, the confidence came back. I felt like I belonged in the league,” remarked Weal on the maturation of his game from last year to this one.
The duo of Weal and Kozun have been a consistent threat all year and have proved to be tremendous players. Both have high compete levels and see the game very well. They’ve also developed great chemistry, which has seen them stay together even with all the roster turnover going on around them.
A casualty of learning a new system and having such a talented roster, Max Kitsyn had played in just six of the team’s previous games before Saturday night. Left with nine forwards though, Max not only dressed, but saw heavy ice time. And In the increased minutes, he showed why he ranked seventh on the MayorsManor top 10 prospect list. Although he didn’t record a point, the Russian winger displayed great vision and passing ability that lead to quality scoring chances for his linemates.
“Yeah. Like I said, I liked it. I like to play a lot so now we have a situation where we have three lines (instead) of four. A lot of injuries (are) not very good but we have to do so,” spoke Kitsyn on his increased ice time.
Kitsyn’s efforts did not go unnoticed.
“He just has to play and as he gets stronger and more acclimated to North American hockey, I think he’s going to be a fine player. He controls the puck well and it’s just a matter of finding a line where he can get steady play. So far, he’s been in and out of the lineup but the last couple of games I thought he played very well for us,” replied Morris, when asked if he was happy with Kitsyn’s play in the win.
The Monarchs are back in action on Friday, November 22 when the Worcester Sharks come to visit. They’ll likely have to use another makeshift roster, as Shore, O’Neill and O’Connor are expected to miss a few weeks of action.
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