While the AHL is known as a development league for the NHL, one aspect forgotten by some is that more than just players are groomed for the big leagues. Often times, new rules are tested out in the minors before working their way into circulation in hockey’s most prominent professional league. Of these new rules is a variation of overtime, where after four minutes of four-on-four action, three minutes of three-on-three occurs before the shootout. The hometown crowd in Manchester would get their first taste of the new OT format when the Monarchs defeated the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 3-2 in the extra frame.
In the first period, Bridgeport thought they had scored the opening goal of the game, only to have the score waved off. As Monarchs’ goalie JF Berube covered a puck, a Sound Tigers player pushed Berube and the biscuit over the goal line, prompting the referee to immediately signal no goal.
Minutes into the middle period, Manchester would score the first official goal of the game, as Zach O’Brien was credited for his second of the season. In the left offensive corner, captain Vincent LoVerde backhanded a pass to the front of the net, where O’Brien tapped the puck home as he was taken down by a defending player.
An early goal in the third stanza extended the Monarchs lead to 2-0. Collecting a pass from Michael Mersch, Justin Auger skated down the left wing, protected the puck, and was able to reach around Kevin Poulin for his fourth score of the year. Auger used his size and reach extremely well on the play, something he has consistently done all season.
Down by two and with limited time to work, Bridgeport mounted a quick comeback, scoring twice in 27 seconds to knot the game at two. A scramble in front of the net saw Colin McDonald slide the puck five-hole on Berube. Earlier on the play, Berube had lost his stick and was forced to take one from defenseman Derek Forbort. The lack of a proper goalie stick may have contributed to Berube’s inability to seal off the ice as the puck glided past him.
Harry Zolniercyzk would score the second goal for the Sound Tigers, as he beat Berube on a partial break away. Monarchs’ defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk was beat on the play, allowing Zolniercyzk a clear look at the net from the right side of the ice.
Late in regulation, the hometown crowd would erupt, as they had thought their team pulled ahead in the final minute. An O’Brien shot would deflect in the air, where Nick Shore got a piece of it as the puck found the back of the net. Replays would show that Shore used his hand to score, meaning the goal would not count and the two teams would look to settle the game in overtime.
On the first shift of three-on-three overtime, O’Brien found Nic Dowd alone behind the Sound Tigers defense and slid him the puck. Working to his right, Dowd opened up Poulin and slid the puck through the sprawling netminder to secure the victory for his team.
Stopping 25 of 27 shots faced, Berube was a huge factor in the Monarchs’ victory. Though Bridgeport was badly out-shot, they were able to muster up plenty of grade-A scoring chances, and Berube made several key saves to give his team a chance at two points in extra time. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Friday Berube’s best outing of the season. The French-Canadian also showed a physical edge to his game, as he threw two punches out of frustration at opposing players.
“I was a little frustrated. [It] happens sometimes. I got pushed around a little bit. It’s not my game, but I guess I was frustrated a little bit, and one got away from me,” the goaltender said of his extracurricular activities.
In his last four games, O’Brien has tallied five points, including two in Friday’s game. After a slow start to the season, he has found the offense he showed last season alongside Shore. O’Brien is capable of setting up plays, while also finishing them, and his offensive output has been a key part of Manchester’s success of late.
“I wasn’t too happy with my play offensively in the first five or six games of the season. When I came back from injury, I wanted to produce more and play both sides – offense and defense,” said O’Brien on his recent hot streak.
The new overtime format brought an exciting change to the game and has been very successful at ending games before the shootout. It would not be a surprise to see the NHL adopt a similar change for the start of next year. Most of the players and coach Mike Stothers are fans of the new format, while Berube was the lone voice against it.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:
Brian O’Neill – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
David Van der Gulik – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
Michael Mersch – Jordan Weal – Justin Auger
Ryan Horvat – Andrew Crescenzi – Scott Sabourin
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Kevin Raine
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