Heading into Sunday’s game, the Manchester Monarchs had already secured more points than all of last year. Having won their first two games on the weekend, coach Mark Morris’ team looked to complete the weekend sweep by picking up a victory against the Hartford Wolf Pack.
If there’s been one area where the Monarchs have struggled as of late, it’s been in their starts to games. Often falling behind early, they’ve had to rely on their ability to come back from behind to win games. Sunday, the team looked to break that trend, coming out of the gate firing on all cylinders.
Halfway through the first period, the Monarchs opened the scoring with a Colin Fraser power play goal. Recently acquired Brayden McNabb collected the puck in the neutral zone and sent a pass over to Linden Vey, who thrust himself into the offensive zone. Driving towards the right corner, Vey’s pass split two defenders and found Fraser in the slot, who wristed a shot glove side past Wolf Pack goalie David LeNeveu.
Three minutes later, captain Andrew Campbell would score a rare goal, just his third of the season, to extend the lead to two. On a play somewhat similar to Fraser’s goal, a neutral zone pass sent center Nick Shore into Hartford’s zone before Campbell called for a drop pass. The rookie center obliged his captain and Campbell fired a shot, picking the top corner of the net behind LeNeveu.
Manchester would add another goal, this time off of the stick of Jordan Weal. When the puck came to him at the point, Andrew Bodnarchuk let a slap shot go, which buzzed just wide of the net. Zach O’Brien, parked in front of LeNeveu, retrieved the puck and faked out a Wolf Pack defenseman before feeding Weal as he drove to the net for the goal. O’Brien’s assist was his second of the game, after he picked one up on Campbell’s tally.
A defensive lapse late in the first would give Hartford life, as former University of Michigan standout TJ Hensick got his team on the board with 22 seconds on the clock. After Jeff Schultz fanned on a clearing attempt, Connor Allen passed a puck between Schultz and Shore to Hensick, who was wide open in front and beat JF Berube for the goal. Both Schultz and Shore went for the puck when one of them should have identified the man in behind them and picked up the defensive assignment.
In the second period, both teams traded five-on-three power plays, yet each came up empty with the two-man advantage. Overall, neither team provided much of an offensive surge in a rather uneventful period, allowing the Monarchs to carry a 3-1 lead into the final 20 minutes.
It stayed that way until just under a minute left in regulation, when Hartford’s Hensick scored his second of the night to make it a one goal game. The play started with a plethora of bodies fighting for the puck near the goal line before it eventually kicked out to JT Miller, who passed across the ice to a wide-open Hensick for the goal.
Ultimately, the Wolf Pack’s effort would be in vein, as the Monarchs held on to win 3-2 and complete the weekend sweep.
Over the past month or so, Campbell’s game has seen an added element to it. Already a solid defensive-defenseman at the AHL level, he has become more active in the offensive zone. Though he’ll never be known as a point-producing player, his efforts were rewarded with a goal on Sunday. He knew exactly where to be positioned to find a soft spot on the ice and set himself up for a shot.
“Yeah. I’ll chip one in whenever I can. It was one of my nicer ones I’ve ever had too, so it definitely feels good,” said Campbell on his goal. “Usually when I get a goal, it’s a floater from the blue line that has eyes, but yeah, that one felt good.”
Still on a professional tryout, O’Brien has shown himself able to stand up to the rigor and pace of the AHL season. Given an opportunity initially out of necessity, as the Monarchs needed players to fill out their roster due to injuries and call-ups, he’s taken full advantage. An offensively gifted player, the former Acadie-Bathurst Titan has found great chemistry with Shore, settling in on his wing for a long period of the season. O’Brien will likely finish the season with the Monarchs and continue to work towards his goal of earning an NHL contract.
For Hartford, Dylan McIlrath lived up to his billing of being a tough, physical defenseman. Midway through the first period, he dropped the gloves with Scott Sabourin, throwing a flurry of solid right hands before Sabourin briefly landed shots with his left hand. On top of the fight, McIlrath played an in-your-face style of game and made it a tough night for the Monarchs to dig pucks out of the offensive corner.
On the season, the Monarchs sit atop the AHL standings with 86 points, after only collecting 81 all of last year. Division rival St. John’s IceCaps sit 10 points behind Manchester with four games in hand.
Sunday marked the end of Ian O’Connor and Chris Huxley’s professional tryouts with the team. Director of Hockey Operations Hubie McDonough confirmed after the game that both players would receive another tryout contract to stay with the team.
The Monarchs return to the ice on Friday, March 14 to take on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at 7 PM from Verizon Wireless Arena.
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 – Scott Sabourin
Steve Quailer – Colin Fraser – James Livingston
Derek Forbort – Andrew Campbell
Jeff Schultz – Brayden McNabb
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Follow @AndyTonge1 for more Monarchs news and notes.