Fans who were in Manchester to watch the Monarchs take on the visiting St. John’s IceCaps on Friday were in for a sense of déjà vu when the two teams met for a rematch on Saturday. Once again, St. John’s would score the opening two goals, the Monarchs would stage a comeback, and extra time was needed. However, Saturday’s iteration saw one major change – the Monarchs netted the last goal of the game and walked out with two points.
After starting the scoring early in Friday’s game, the IceCaps would once again light the lamp first on Saturday. Just over three minutes after the opening puck drop, Eric O’Dell would add a power play goal. O’Dell would take a cross-ice feed from John Albert and one-time a shot past netminder Patrik Bartosak.
Then, almost exactly halfway through regulation time, Scott Kosmachuk would tally his 10th of the season to extend his team’s lead to 2-0. While Jeff Schultz attempted to defend JC Lipon in his team’s right defensive corner, his teammates were entering the zone after a change. A defensive meltdown saw Kosmachuk unattended in the slot, where Lipon fed him a pass. Delaying and forcing the goalie to make the first move, Kosmachuk shot the puck shore side as Bartosak sprawled out of desperation.
Manchester would quickly find an answer, as veteran forward David Van der Gulik finally got his team on the scoreboard. With the puck at the top of the point, Schultz dished off to Andrew Bodnarchuk in the left offensive circle. From there, Bodnarchuk quickly sent a cross-ice feed to Van der Gulik, who slammed the puck home as Connor Hellebuyck slid to his right.
In the third period, Colin Miller would tie the game at two with his first goal of the evening. With a one-man advantage, a puck went from low to high and found Miller slowly creeping in from the point. Once the puck was on his stick, Miller wasted no time releasing a blistering slap shot just inside the post.
Overtime became the Miller show, as the defender made several key plays leading to his team’s victory. The first was to draw a penalty after Jordan Weal was assessed a double minor for high sticking with 4:06 left in the extra time. Had Miller not drawn said call, the IceCaps would have held a one-man advantage until there was only six seconds left to play.
A minute later, Miller was robbed of a goal by the glove hand of Hellebuyck. As Hellebuyck slid to his right, Miller shot a hard wrist shot to his left, forcing the goalie to flash the leather and come up with a five star stop.
Despite Hellebuyck’s big save and overall stellar performance, Miller found a way to once again beat the goalie. Once again skating to his left, Miller made no mistake the second time around and fired one top shelf to seal the victory for his team by a final score of 3-2.
Though the Monarchs picked up two points, they suffered a big loss, as backup netminder Bartosak left the game with an apparent injury to his left shoulder. With nine minutes left in regulation, an IceCaps player collided with the Czech and he was slow to get up. JF Berube came in to relieve Bartosak and picked up the win. There were no immediate updates to the status of Bartosak, but he did appear on the bench minutes after leaving in full gear, indicating the injury likely isn’t serious.
As stated in our top prospects writeup, Miller has continued to be a stellar performer for the Monarchs. His offensive growth has been nothing short of incredible, currently sitting at 14 goals and 22 assists for a total of 36 points in 46 games. Last year, he only added 17 points through 65 contests. While he likely still needs to work on his defensive game to become a true second pair defenseman at the next level, his strides on that side of the puck are evident as well. If he can tighten up in his own zone, it isn’t out of the question to see a replacement for Slava Voynov be found in the AHL rather than through trade for the Kings.
“I think everyone coming in their first year is going to have some struggles, and that’s how it’s going to be. I think just getting to know the league – that helps a lot. [I’m] just taking it in stride, taking each game at a time, and just try and build and learn new things as I go along,” said Miller on his progress over the last 12 months.
For the first time in his career, Bodnarchuk entered a season with limited training camp action and no preseason games under his belt. Thrown straight into game action after recovering from a knee injury, the seventh year pro is hitting his stride. Finally, he’s skating better and seems to have his legs under him after missing over a dozen games to start the year. In the last four games, the defender has added two goals and four assists.
“I think I came in off the injury – I think I missed 15 or 16 games to start the season, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the AHL, that’s a long period of time where you’re not getting the flow of the game. Like you said, I had to jump right into regular season games. I didn’t get any preseason games – down here or up top (in the NHL). I was happy with where my game was coming off the injury,” the well-spoken defenseman said. “I felt good, but I guess you wouldn’t say great. I think it took me 10 to 15 games before I really felt like I was playing the hockey I was playing last year. Personally, I’ve been really happy with my game the last 15 plus games.”
Sitting out on Saturday, Scott Sabourin missed his first game since returning from an injury earlier in the season. The move was described as a “coaches decision” by head coach Mike Stothers. Sabourin has struggled on the year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the move was in an effort to motivate the young winger to elevate his play.
The Monarchs return to action on Sunday to take on the Worcester Sharks.
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