Once a year, the Manchester Monarchs hold a special Education Day game, where they play before noon and invite thousands of local school kids. This year’s version was one for the history books.
Entering the game, head coach Mark Morris sat at 299 professional wins. One more would make the bench boss hockey’s first person to ever record 300 collegiate wins, as well as 300 pro victories. The odds were stacked against Morris though, as his top two players were called up to the NHL nearly two weeks prior. Compounding the situation was the announcement that Martin Jones would be called up after the game, thus not available to start the morning affair.
Despite the absence of two-thirds of their top-line and primary netminder, the Monarchs dominated the game and won by a final score of 3-1 over the visiting Norfolk Admirals.
Gritty forward Andy Andreoff put Manchester on the board first, ripping a shot home from the slot and beating Victor Fasth for the 1-0 lead. If that name sounds familiar, yes, the Ducks goalie was down in the AHL working himself back into gameshape.
Initially, the goal was ruled to have hit the crossbar and stayed out of the net, but a video review overturned the original call on the ice.
Late in the first period, Nick Deslauriers’ physical play led to him dropping the gloves with Nolan Yonkman. The two went toe-to-toe, with Yonkman getting the better of the exchange.
Heading into the second period, up by a goal and with a sizable lead in shots, Manchester seemed poised to add another marker. They got exactly that just over two minutes into the period as Brian O’Neill scored his fourth of the year. Sustained pressure and good work on the cycle rewarded the Monarchs third line as Ian O’Connor found O’Neill in the slot, where the center was able to make a move to his backhand and finish off the play. Also getting an assist on the play was defenseman Vincent LoVerde.
Midway through the second, Norfolk notched their lone goal off of a great play from winger Max Friberg. Taking the puck down low, Friberg was able to find a wide open Matt Beleskey (another Ducks player) in the slot, who proceeded to fire the pass top-shelf past Monarchs goaltender JF Berube. The play was a rare defensive breakdown for the Monarchs, as no one picked up Beleskey in the slot.
Four minutes later, O’Neill would add his second of the game, yet again off of a pass from O’Connor. As the New Hampshire native O’Connor held the puck just outside the blue line, O’Neill came streaking down the right side of the ice. A perfect pass sent the Yale graduate into the offensive zone, where he proceeded to wrist home his fifth of the year.
Fasth left the game with a headache late in the second and was replaced by Anaheim’s top goaltending prospect, John Gibson. Until that point, Fasth had kept his team in the game by making 27 saves, while twice making visits to the bench for various equipment adjustments.
The third period was a chippy affair, with both teams throwing plenty of hits and mixing it up after the whistle. Andreoff missed a wide open attempt at an empty net in the final minute of regulation, but it didn’t matter, as his team had already secured the victory.
In only his second start of the year, Berube was fantastic for the hometown team. His biggest save came in the second period with the score still 2-1. Chris Huxley dove and swung to hit a puck away but failed and two Admirals were in all alone on the Monarchs goalie. A pass went from right to left and was denied by the sliding pad of Berube, giving his teammates time to get back into position. Overall, the Quebec native was extremely solid, fundamentally speaking, and will look to build off of his first victory of the year while Jones is up with the Kings.
It’s highly likely Mathias Niederberger will be summoned from Ontario of the ECHL to serve as Berube’s back-up (although nothing has been confirmed as of this writing). The German goalie signed a two-year contract with Manchester this past summer.
With players out of the lineup and the lines shuffled, O’Neill found himself playing with O’Connor and winger Sean Backman. The trio are not normally known as a high- scoring line, but were credited with two goals on the night. Missing key players, the unit stepped up in a big way and their play has not been lost on Morris.
“Those guys are coming on like gangbusters. I really like what I see. Their leadership abilities and their maturity permeates the room,” remarked Morris on the trios play of late.
Outside of the O’Neill line, the biggest threat throughout the game was Brandon Kozun. Everywhere the 23-year-old Kings prospect has played he’s consistently put up solid numbers. Currently, his 14 points are tied with his center Jordan Weal for tops on the team . Kozun was instrumental in at least four quality scoring chances on Wednesday, yet couldn’t find the scoresheet.
“It’s interesting, it’s kind of been like that a little lately,” he said post-game, talking about not finding the back of the net. “The biggest thing is you’re getting the chances. I think I’ve proven over the years I can score goals and it’s only a matter of time. Just a little bit of bad puck luck, but it’ll come.”
After the game, it was first announced by MayorsManor that winger Tanner Pearson had been called up to the Kings. He’ll join his Manchester linemates Tyler Toffoli and Linden Vey as Los Angeles travels to Long Island to face the Islanders on Thursday.
The Monarchs are back in action this weekend, seeing action Friday in Portland and Saturday when the Admirals are back in town.
For more on Jones and Pearson being called up, see their post-game interviews at the links below.
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