When the Manchester Monarchs stepped onto the ice on Friday night, there was plenty of change from the team fans watched win the Eastern Conference last season. Gone were coach Mark Morris, captain Andrew Campbell, and the jerseys they had worn for the past several seasons. While the team may look much different, their on-ice results weren’t much different at all.
The Monarchs opened the scoring with a power play goal just under five minutes into the game. Recently named captain Vincent LoVerde skated the puck out of his defensive zone before connecting with a pass to Sean Backman on the right wing. Entering the offensive zone, Backman dished to Jordan Weal in the middle of the offensive zone, who one-touch passed the puck to Brian O’Neill on the left wing before the Yale graduate buried his third goal of the season with a slap shot.
Ten minutes later, Nick Ebert registered his first AHL goal, with Weal once again picking up an assist. After collecting the puck in the middle of the ice, Weal took a stride to his left before backhanding a pass to Ebert on the right point, who skated in and released a perfect wrist shot top shelf. O’Neill registered an assist on the play as well.
Early in the second period, fellow Guelph Storm alumni Justin Auger followed in Ebert’s footsteps by picking up his first professional goal. Battling for the puck in the slot, Nick Shore dropped a puck behind him for the streaking Auger, who found a way to beat Portland Pirates goalie Mike McKenna.
Manchester would add to their lead when Jeff Schultz scored his second goal of the year. Shore showed great hands, as he stick handled around defenders to move from the right boards towards the slot, before backhanding a pass to Schultz at the left point. With no traffic in front of him, Schultz let a wrist shot go that beat McKenna cleanly. With his second goal in the first four games of the year, Schultz tied his goal totals from 67 contests last season with the team.
In the final minutes of the second period, Portland would get on the board with a seeing-eye goal. Skating down the left wing into the Monarchs zone, Alexandre Bolduc released a shot near the bottom of the circle that hit Monarchs goalie JF Berube’s right arm before trickling down his back and barely crossing the goal line.
Midway through the third period, the Monarchs would regain their four goal lead, as Backman picked up his third point of the game on a power play goal. Weal took a pass in his own zone from LoVerde and skated coast-to-coast before finding Backman in the slot, who wired one home.
Seconds later, Portland cut the lead back down to three when Lucas Lessio buried a perfect one-time feed from Bolduc. After entering the zone, Bolduc threw a pass from the top of the left circle to the bottom of the right circle, where the in-stride Lessio netted his second of the season.
From there, Berube and the Monarchs shut the door to hold onto the 5-2 win, despite being out-shot for almost the entirety of the game.
Weal’s game on Friday was uncharacteristic of him. While contributing offensively is expected of him, he was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct after taking his second stick infraction of the game. Upon returning to the bench, Weal sat for roughly ten minutes, as Stothers decided to bench him for his actions on the ice.
“We take a penalty and then we tack on another for an unsportsmanlike. That’s uncharacteristic of Jordan. He’s a real solid hockey player, and he’s more valuable to us on the ice than he is in the penalty box. To his credit, he came back onto the ice a focused and driven young man, and played the way we know that he can play. Its just a learning situation. He handled it very well, I’m proud of him, and we move forward with it,” Stothers said of the situation.
Coming into the season as the Monarchs starting goaltender, Berube provided a quality start that will be expected of him if the team wants to match the success of last season. Early in the game, Berube made four quality saves while scrambling to keep up with the frantic start Portland had. Throughout the game, Berube made quality saves to preserve the lead and eliminated a large amount of rebounds. While the first goal he let in should have likely been stopped, it didn’t seem to rattle the goaltender, who stays calm under all situations.
With Backman in the locker room tending to an injury, Auger saw himself with expanded playing time. The first year pro, expected to fill more so a bottom six role than a top six one, saw ice time on the power play and penalty kill. Though he his not physical, the lanky Auger uses his body well to protect pucks and is a handful to deal with for opposing defenders and goalies in front of the net.
“Good. It feels good to jump in when I can. Getting to play with guys like O’Neill and Weal is a privilege. They’re good guys and we scored a goal out there. I just tried to take advantage of my opportunity to play with them,” said Auger of his opportunity to play in an expanded role.
Franchise record holder for most games played and former captain Andrew Campbell made his return Friday night to Manchester after signing with the Coyotes organization this past summer.
Coach Stothers did not indicate who would start Saturday’s game versus Providence.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:
Sean Backman – Jordan Weal – Brian O’Neill
Michael Mersch – Nick Shore – Justin Auger
David Van Der Gulik – Nic Dowd – Scott Sabourin
Josh Gratton – Andrew Crescenzi – Zach O’Brien
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Kevin Raine – Vincent LoVerde
Derek Forbort – Nick Ebert
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