Heading into Friday’s game, the Manchester Monarchs had only seven regular season games remaining before their pursuit of the Calder Cup really begins. Having already locked up a spot in the postseason, these last few games will likely serve as a tuneup to fix any deficiencies and be at the top of their game for when it really matters. Complicating this is the slew of roster moves coming before the team’s last three games in three days weekend.
After the LA Kings acquired Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline, they no longer had the cap space to carry Linden Vey on their roster, opting to return the young center to Manchester. However, Vey was called back to the Kings Thursday for what seemed like just a brief moment. With Drew Doughty suffering an injury in Thursday’s game versus San Jose, the team later recalled Monarchs’ captain Andrew Campbell as a precautionary move. This forced Vey to then be loaned to Ontario of the ECHL.
The real roster news came as the Monarchs added three Kings prospects – defenseman Kevin Gravel, along with forwards Nic Dowd and Michael Mersch. All three were signed to amateur tryouts after their college careers ended last week.
Friday’s game was less than an ideal debut for the three youngsters, as Manchester failed to create any offense and was ultimately shut out 2-0 by the visiting Hartford Wolf Pack.
Hartford would open the scoring in the second period off of a goal from Danny Kristo, a former college teammate of defenseman Derek Forbort. As the Wolf Pack worked the puck low in the offensive zone, Kristo worked free in front of the net and TJ Hensick fed him with a pass. Kristo held the puck and waited for goalie JF Berube to make a move, sliding the puck passed the sprawling goalie.
Wolf Pack captain Aaron Johnson extended the lead to two later in the period. Working the puck on the power play, the team passed from the point to the high slot before going back to the point, where Johnson took a shot. Before making it to Berube, the puck was deflected by a Monarchs’ defender and found the back of the net. Oscar Lindberg and Conor Allen got assists on the goal, which was Allen’s second helper of the game.
Despite a strong push in the last five minutes of the third period, the Monarchs failed to score. The team spent most of the game on the perimeter, failing to create heavy traffic in front of David LeNeveu and ultimately losing the game.
Another reason for the team’s offensive struggles was a poor game from Jordan Weal. With the departure of top offensive players, Weal will be heavily relied upon to create chances for his team. Friday’s game saw Weal become a non-factor. While other players have lost their linemates, Weal has been on a consistent line for a few months. Usually, every time the center has the puck, he is a threat to score, but he was rather easily contained by the Wolf Pack’s defense.
Mersch, a power forward from the University of Wisconsin, was aggressive on the forecheck all night. In the offensive zone, he drove to the net and looked to bury any rebounds. Of the few scoring chances the Monarchs had, one came from Mersch right on the door step. One very noticeable aspect of Mersch’s game is his skating, where he appears heavy on his feet and lacks speed, something that will hurt him in trying to make the transition into the pro ranks.
Every year, certain prospects elevate themselves to new ranks and force fans and management alike to take notice of them. For Dowd, a 7th round pick in 2009, his senior season at St. Cloud State was that year. Sharing the captaincy with Gravel, Dowd scored a career high in points and goals, is a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, and earned a one-year, entry level contract. A high-energy player throughout his collegiate career, Dowd lacked the energy that usually comes from his game. He battled well along the boards but will look to improve on his game and catch up to the speed of the AHL level before the playoffs start. Part of Dowd’s struggles could be credited to him arriving in Manchester at 1 AM on Friday and only having the morning skate to learn the team’s system.
Dowd’s teammate, roommate, and co-captain at St. Cloud, Gravel, was the third Monarch to debut Friday and arguably the most impressive. After three years of scoring only one goal, Gravel exploded to score 10 this season. Known prominently as a true defensive-defenseman (he’s been compared to Rob Scuderi), Gravel’s offensive side of the game has steadily improved, which he showed on Friday. Though he played limited minutes due to a large amount of penalties in the game, Gravel made several smart decisions with the puck. He’s positionally sound and uses his stick to defend well. The only one of the three to not have signed a pro contract for next season, it is imperative for Gravel to impress these final games of the season to ensure a contract is offered to him.
Head coach Mark Morris announced post game that Patrik Bartosak would start in goal for the team on Saturday, April 5, as they take on the Portland Pirates.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:
Brian O’Neill – Jordan Weal – Sean Backman
Andy Andreoff – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Steve Quailer
Hunter Bishop – Andrew Crescenzi – Scott Sabourin
Derek Forbort – Jeff Schultz
Brayden McNabb – Colin Miller
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Kevin Gravel
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