As the Manchester Monarchs are in the stretch run towards the end of the season, they find themselves in a favorable position. Coming into Sunday afternoon’s matinee with the visiting Hershey Bears, the team sat atop the AHL standings with just 10 games left to play. Manchester would build on their first place lead by beating the Bears 2-1 in a goaltending duel between JF Berube and Phillipp Grubauer.
The Monarchs would open the scoring near the midway mark of the first period. On the power play resulting from a hit to the head of Jordan Weal, Zach O’Brien would score his 10th goal of the year. Brayden McNabb held the puck at the point before passing off to Andy Andreoff on the right half wall. The forward’s one-timer hit teammate James Livingston in front of the net and rebounded to O’Brien for the easy tap in. Grubauer and the Bears were upset at Livingston, feeling as if he interfered with their goalie, but the goal would stand.
Dane Byers made contact with the head of Weal, which shook up the Monarchs’ leading point scorer. Weal took a knee immediately after the hit and stayed there for an extended period before going to the bench. After finishing out the period, Weal started the second but only played one shift before leaving the game once again. Feeling a headache, the center underwent concussion protocol before returning to the game for the third period.
Early in the middle frame, the Bears would tie the game at one. After an offensive zone chance on the rush for the Monarchs, Hershey quickly transitioned and worked on a three-on-two break the opposite way. Matt Watkins shot from the right side of the ice rebounded off of Berube’s pad and into the slot where Julien Brouillette buried the loose puck. On the play, O’Brien made a strong effort to get back defensively, but ultimately superior stick positioning allowed Brouillette to tally his 10th goal of the year.
Under a minute and a half later, the Monarchs would regain the lead with their second power play goal of the night. Linden Vey cleanly won the offensive zone draw to the right of Grubauer and the puck kicked straight back to the point, where Andrew Bodnarchuk let go a heavy shot to the top corner.
With a 2-1 lead in the 3rd period, Berube took over the game for his team. In the final 20 minutes of regulation, the goalie stopped two grade-A quality chances, as well as stopping a Bears player on a breakaway. His 19 saves were enough for the Monarchs to hold on and win, despite Hershey’s strong effort late in the game.
Berube has time and time again shown himself more than capable of stealing games for his team. After starting the year in a battle for the backup role with Mathias Niederberger, Berube has not only entrenched himself in the starter role, but has been one of the many reasons Manchester has had such a successful season to date. The name of the game for Berube going forward is consistency. If he can play at a high level on a consistent basis, only good things can come for the French Canadian.
“I had to make those saves, I knew they would come hard,” Berube said, speaking of his big saves in the third period. “It was a mental battle out there. It wasn’t easy. Most of the shots were either tipped or screened, so I had to fight to find those pucks.”
A solid contributor all year, Andreoff has a good outing on Sunday. Playing on Vey’s left wing, chemistry has become quite evident between the two. Andreoff made several quality passes to create offensive chances for his linemates. As always, the gritty forward played a physical game and fought hard for the puck all night.
On the season, no defenseman has proven to be more versatile than Bodnarchuk. Playing in all situations, the AHL veteran has found a way to make his presence felt nearly every game. On the opening shift of the game, he threw a big hit – setting the tone for what would end up being a very scrappy first period. Later, Bodnarchuk would show his offensive side, utilizing his slap shot to score the eventual game winning goal. If there is one area holding him back, it would be his size, where the larger players in the league have shown to be a tough match-up in front of the net.
For the Bears, Grubauer was the lone bright spot. Making 34 saves, he kept his team in position to tie the game all night. Though he didn’t have to make too many big saves, he made the timely ones. In fact, he even chipped in offensively, picking up the secondary assist on the lone goal by his team.
With Colin Fraser nursing a broken hand [ed. note: no surgery is required, but he is expected to miss roughly four weeks] and Steve Quailer banged up as well, the Monarchs opted to take an unconventional route and play seven defenseman, leaving Scott Sabourin as a healthy scratch. Coach Mark Morris expressed the desire to get Colin Miller into a game after a long absence as his reason for the decision.
The LA Kings recently assigned Patrik Bartosak to Manchester after his career in juniors ended this week. Mathias Niederberger will likely be returned to Ontario of the ECHL at some point shortly. Morris did not indicate if Bartosak will start any games for the team down the stretch, citing the need to see him play more before making that decision.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Sunday were as follows:
Brian O’Neill – Jordan Weal – Sean Backman
Hunter Bishop – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
Andy Andreoff – Linden Vey – James Livingston
Ian O’Connor – Andrew Crescenzi –
Derek Forbort – Andrew Campbell
Jeff Schultz – Brayden McNabb
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
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