Before the completion of their game Saturday night, the Manchester Monarchs had reason to celebrate. A 7-2 loss by the St. John’s IceCaps meant the primary affiliate of the LA Kings had clinched the Atlantic Division title and guaranteed themselves home ice for at least the first round of the AHL playoffs.
Goalie JF Berube made his return to the Monarchs lineup after backing up Patrik Bartosak for the last three games. Battling an injured hand, the Monarchs’ starting goalie battled through any lingering discomfort and earned his third shutout of the year, as Manchester beat Portland 4-0.
Two first period penalties gave the Monarchs a five-on-three man advantage with a lot of time to go to work. Working the puck around the offensive zone, a blocked shot rebounded to Linden Vey at the point. Vey held the puck briefly before deciding to release a wrist shot, deflecting off of a Pirates’ stick, in the air, and past goalie Louis Domingue, who never saw the puck on the redirect. Vincent LoVerde and Andrew Bodnarchuk picked up the assists on Vey’s goal.
In the second period, it was yet again a power play goal for the Monarchs, as they extended their lead to 2-0. LoVerde received a pass from the left hash marks along the boards and slapped a pass over to his defensive partner, Bodnarchuk, who was set up near the goal line to the left of Domingue. Immediately upon reception of the puck, Bodnarchuk one-time passed the puck cross-crease to Vey for his second goal of the game.
Seven and a half minutes later, Jordan Weal made it a 3-0 game with his 23rd goal of the year. Carrying the puck in the left side of the offensive zone, Weal passed off to Brian O’Neill, who dropped the puck to LoVerde before the defender gave the puck back to Weal. In close on Domingue, the center beat the goalie cleanly with a wrist shot. The assist was LoVerde’s third of the night, while Weal’s goal gave him sole possession of 3rd place for points in the AHL.
A third power play goal in the third period would be the final goal of the game, giving Manchester their 4-0 lead. After carrying the puck in the offensive zone, Zach O’Brien passed to Nick Shore, who found Brayden McNabb at the point. Carrying the puck closer to the net, McNabb let go a wrist shot that found its way past Domingue.
The game would not end without a few hostilities mixed in. The third period would devolve into a period marred with fights. Portland forward Darian Dziurzynski was involved in three fights on the night and racked up an astounding 47 penalty minutes in the process. At one point, Andy Andreoff had to be restrained on the bench, as he looked to hop the board and confront Dziurzynski for his antics.
Returning from injury, LoVerde had one of his strongest games of the year. Not known as an offensive defenseman, LoVerde showed a strong ability to know when to jump into the play offensively. Paired with Bodnarchuk for most of the year, the two have developed chemistry that didn’t appear to be affected while the Chicago native was out of the lineup. Possibly more impressive than his offensive numbers has been LoVerde’s defensive abilities, where he has time and again shown that he can effectively shut down opposing team’s players.
Though Berube played well, and he picked up his third shutout of the year, he didn’t have much work to do on Saturday. Facing 23 shots, none were huge threats to the goaltender. Throughout the year, we’ve seen Berube make huge saves to bail out his team, but he wasn’t force to make any versus the Pirates thanks to a Manchester defense that was in rare form, allowing almost no grade-A chances.
Scoring two goals on the night, Vey showed off the offensive talent he’s become known for. The forward had several other chances as well, creating offense all night for his team. On top of that, Vey played well defensively and was a key factor in the team’s win. Heading into the playoffs, it isn’t known if Vey will be with the team or if he will be called up to the Kings once the rosters expand. If he stays in Manchester, he will have a huge influence on the playoff success for the Monarchs.
“It’s been an up and down year. That’s part of being a hockey player. You make the most of wherever you are. The best thing about this is that no matter where we are, we’re always playing hockey. That’s (a) pretty special life to get to do that,” spoke Vey on if it has been a difficult year, shuffling between LA and Manchester.
Unfortunately for the Monarchs, the team incurred two key injuries in victory. O’Neill suffered a leg injury fighting Brett Hextall, son of former Kings assistant GM Ron Hextall. This year’s breakout forward was taken for x-rays and may miss significant time. Bodnarchuk, injured on a hit before he himself was a willing combatant in a fight, suffered a deep contusion and may also miss time going forward. Both would be huge blows, as both are not only key players, but leaders on the ice.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Saturday were as follows:
Brian O’Neill – Jordan Weal – Sean Backman
Hunter Bishop – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
Michael Mersch – Linden Vey – Andy Andreoff
James Livingston – Nic Dowd – Scott Sabourin
Brayden McNabb – Jeff Schultz
Derek Forbort – Colin Miller
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
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