Becoming one of the top teams in any professional sport requires great consistency – something the Manchester Monarchs are well aware of. On the season, the team hasn’t lost more than two games in a row.
On Saturday, the team came in on a two game losing streak and looked like it would drop three in a row for the first time all year before a comeback for the ages in the third period.
Through the first twenty minutes versus the Portland Pirates, Manchester had to rely on a rookie coming up big – but not any of the ones we’ve been talking about lately. Goalie Patrik Bartosak started his first game as a professional and was relied upon early to bail out his team. His efforts left the teams scoreless heading into the first intermission.
The second period became the Lucas Lessio show, as the Pirates’ forward would score three goals in the period. His first came just 27 seconds into the middle frame, when he found himself free in the slot for a one-timer that beat Bartosak. The Pirates worked the puck into the offensive corner, and with the defenseman facing the puck, Lessio backed off of the coverage on him, creating space for Jordan Martinook to feed him with a pass.
Manchester would briefly tie the game three and a half minutes later as offensive leader Jordan Weal lit the lamp for the 19th time this season. As the Pirates attempted to clear their defensive zone, winger Zach O’Brien made a great play to keep the puck in at the blue line and poke the puck up to Weal. Alone in front of Louis Domingue, Weal slid the puck five hole on the Portland goalie.
Even though the Monarchs tied the score, the goal would not change the momentum of the game, which had been in the corner of the visiting Pirates all afternoon. After a failed powerplay, a problem for the team all year, Manchester would give the lead back to the visitors on Lessio’s second goal of the game. Exiting the penalty box, the Phoenix Coyotes prospect briefly returned to the defensive zone before collecting the puck and using his speed to transition to an offensive attack. Skating down the right boards, Lessio blew past Brayden McNabb, who turned the wrong direction to defend the play, and slid the puck on the ice past Bartosak.
Lessio would once again take advantage of the Monarchs’ defense, completing the hat trick all in the second period of play. With only one Monarchs’ player behind the puck as they broke it out of their zone, a turnover gave the Pirates a two-on-one advantage in the offensive zone. Darian Dziurzynski slid the puck past a sliding McNabb and over to Lessio for the one-timer and his third goal of the game.
Down to heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation, the Monarchs looked bound to lose their third straight for the first time all season. With the goalie pulled and under two minutes on the clock, Jordan Weal won an offensive zone faceoff straight to Andy Andreoff, who drove down to the right corner. Weal backed off the defensive coverage and set himself up in the high slot, where he one-timed the puck top shelf past Domingue. Weal’s secnd of the game made him only the second on his team to score 20 goals on the year, joining linemate Brian O’Neill.
Nearly a minute later, Weal scored his third of the game with just 31 seconds on the clock. A late penalty on Portland forward Brandon Yip gave Manchester a powerplay, and coach Mark Morris’ decision to pull the goalie gave the team a six on four advantage. After winning the faceoff and working the puck to the point, Michael Mersch let go a hard shot that missed the net. The puck bounced off the boards and onto the stick of Weal, who threw the puck at the net, hitting the foot of Sam Klassen and going into the net.
After killing a penalty in overtime, Manchester would complete a comeback for the ages, as Sean Backman won the game in the extra frame. Using his speed to enter the offensive zone, Backman ignored his teammate calling for the puck, instead opting to release a slap shot that beat Domingue high on the goalie’s glove side, giving the Monarchs’ a 4-3 win.
Even though it was his first professional start, you would be hard pressed to tell that Bartosak was a rookie. The young goaltender undoubtedly has an unorthodox style, but no one can even question how hard he battles for pucks. He fought through traffic, tracked pucks well, and only had moderate issues with rebounds. Several times, the goalie fought hard to make big saves, allowing his team to remain within striking distance all game. Though he likely won’t see much, if any, action the rest of the season, getting his first win will be key for Bartosak going forward as a pro.
All season long, Weal has led his team offensively. No player has been more important to the offense the team generates than Weal. Struggling in the game before, Weal responded with a statement game, showing off the incredible offensive talent he possesses. Known as a pass first player, Weal has shown time and time again that he has the tools to score big goals, as he did on Saturday.
While most of the talk among the three rookie college players lied on Kevin Gravel and Nic Dowd, the transition to the professional ranks has been easiest for Mersch. Though it undoubtedly has been a small sample size, Mersch has shown off a skill set that is seemingly very conducive to what the Kings are trying to establish on their NHL roster. In his first two games, Mersch has shown off the skill set one would desire from a power forward. On the game tying goal, Mersch’s heavy shot created the offensive chance for Weal to tie the game.
Outside of the obviously strong performance from Lessio, the Pirates’ benefited from a strong goaltending performance from Domingue. Twice, the right hand catching goalie used his glove to rob the Monarchs of surefire goals, while also stopping multiple breakaways. All three goalies he allowed in regulation were a credit to the defense in front of him failing to pick up Weal, while the overtime winner was simply a perfectly placed shot.
The Monarchs look to complete their weekend with a win as they now travel to Worcester to take on the Sharks on Sunday afternoon.
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 – Nic Dowd – Steve Quailer
Andy Andreoff – Andrew Crescenzi – Scott Sabourin
Derek Forbort – Jeff Schultz
Brayden McNabb – Colin Miller
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Kevin Gravel
Follow @AndyTonge1 for more Monarchs news and notes.
Post-game goalie tweet…
First start, first win under the belt for the kid. Great effort by everyone and even better comeback for the @MonarchsHockey
— Patrik Bartosak (@PBartosak30) April 5, 2014