AHL: O’Neill’s hat-trick powers Monarchs to victory

Friday’s game in Manchester saw a few new faces on the ice, while familiar ones watched off it. As the Monarchs took on the Adirondack Phantoms, led by former LA Kings coach Terry Murray, Ron Hextall took the game in from the press box. This past summer, Hextall moved on from being the assistant general manager for the Kings to take on the same position with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Waering Monarchs jerseys for the first time, Brayden McNabb and James Livingston made their debuts after both were traded to the organization in separate deals earlier in the week. Also suiting up for the Monarchs was Linden Vey, sent down due to salary cap constraints after the Kings acquired forward Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline.

Manchester would open the scoring with an early goal from Brian O’Neill. After a Phantoms turnover in the Monarchs’ zone, Jordan Weal corralled the puck and carried it up ice. Once he crossed the offensive blue line, he made a short pass to O’Neill, who slid a weak shot through Yann Danis’ five-hole for the 1-0 lead. Sean Backman and Weal were credited with the assists.

Later in the first period, O’Neill would net his second of the game. As the Phantoms tried to break out of their zone, Weal batted a clearing pass out of mid air, carried it back into Adirondack’s zone, and once again fed O’Neill a short pass. In on a partial break, the winger once again went five-hole to extend the lead to 2-0.

The home team would extend their lead to three, as Weal picked up his third and best assist of the night on O’Neill’s third goal of the game.  The highly skilled center spotted Backman driving the net and threw a pass right behind a Phantom’s skates as he wasn’t looking. Though the defender broke up the play just after Backman received the pass, O’Neill swooped in, found the loose puck, and went glove side to complete the hat-trick.

Just over two minutes later, Manchester would take a 4-0 lead on Nick Shore’s 12th goal of the year. Pinching down low in the offensive zone, McNabb held the puck in the left offensive corner before finding Shore with a perfect cross-ice pass. Shore fired a wrister into the gaping net for his easiest goal of the year. Zach O’Brien picked up an assist on the play.

Towards the end of the second period, Murray made a rather strange decision, deciding to pull his goalie for an extra attacker when the teams were playing four-on-four and there was no delayed penalty. Ultimately, nothing came of it but nonetheless, it isn’t a decision you see most coaches make.

To start the third period, the Phantoms decided to turn to Carsen Chubak in net, who replaced Danis after he allowed four goals on 21 shots.

Early in the third period, Adirondack would find the scoreboard, as Bruno Gervais would score on the powerplay. Set up on the left side of the ice, the former NHL defenseman took a good pass from Tye McGinn and beat Monarchs’ goalie JF Berube, breaking up his shutout. A secondary assist was given to Chris VandeVelde.

Midway through the final frame, Adirondack would score again, as Kris Newbury scored on a five-on-three man advantage. Kyle Flanagan, set up on the point, found Nick Cousins set up to the right of Berube and fed him a pass. Cousins immediately one-touch passed the puck across the ice to Newbury for the goal. His goal cut the lead to 4-2, where the game would ultimately end.

Playing in his first home game since February 1, due to being called up during the Olympics, Berube shined in victory. Though the Monarchs were up 4-0 after two periods, the game was much closer than the score indicated. Multiple times the netminder made key saves to take away surefire goals. He tracked the puck well all night and left few rebounds.

In his debut with the team, McNabb showed his offensive prowess, something that has helped him earn AHL All-Star honors the past two seasons. On Shore’s goal, he found the forward wide open and threw a puck right on his tape. With the puck on his stick, McNabb can generate offense and make smart plays. He also showed off the highly touted slap shot that he possesses, as well as a physical element to his game. Not the fleetest of foot, McNabb can stand to be quicker in skating and can benefit from cleaning up small mistakes in his defensive zone.

Another player making his team debut, Livingston also left his impact on the game. On his second shift of the evening, he threw two huge hits along the boards, one of which broke a pane of glass in half and forced a lengthy delay at the next whistle. Known as an energy player, Livingston brings it shift to shift and is ferocious on the forecheck. After possibly getting away with a tripping penalty that left Gervais badly hurt in the first period, he answered the call of Brandon Manning and obliged him to a fight.

All year, O’Neill has been one of the most consistent Monarchs. Used in a variety of roles, ranging from third line checker to first line scorer, O’Neill has found a way to be an effective player. Friday’s game was a reward for all the hard work he’s put in on the year, as all three of his goals were a result of playing smart hockey and not necessarily due to him making fancy plays. Over the past few months, he has found good chemistry playing along side Weal and Backman.

“When you get off to a good start, that helps with the confidence. Any time you’re playing with Weal as your center man, you’re going to get the puck in some good areas, and he found me a couple of times through the middle. Fortunately, we got a couple of goals in the first there and then another one in the (second),” O’Neill said when speaking about his strong night.

Sent down to make the Kings compliant with the salary cap, expectations were for Vey to dominate, as the Kings feel he is ready for a long look at the NHL level. In reality, Vey was invisible for most of the game, with several turnovers drawing unwanted atention. Most notably, one play saw Vey carry the puck around the entire offensive zone before he turned it over, leading to an odd-man rush the other way.

The Monarchs return to take on the Providence Bruins on Saturday, March 8 at 3 PM for their American Pride Day game. During the game, the team will honor fallen MIT police officer Sean Collier, who lost his life during the events of the Boston Bombing nearly a year ago.

Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:

FORWARDS

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

DEFENSEMAN

Derek Forbort – Andrew Campbell

Jeff Schultz – Brayden McNabb

Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde

GOALTENDERS

JF Berube

Mathias Niederberger

Follow @AndyTonge1 for more Monarchs news and notes.

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