Almost anyone in the hockey world will tell you about the importance of good goaltending. While the Manchester Monarchs came into the season with some question marks on their roster, they had the benefit of knowing JF Berube would solidify the position that is so crucial to a winning team. On Friday in Portland, Berube would once again put on a dazzling performance, helping his team to a 3-1 road victory.
The Pirates would open up the scoring with a late first period goal off the stick of Dylan Reese. Portland worked the puck from the right side of the ice to Reese on the left point before the defenseman let go a hard slap shot, hitting the shin pads of Monarchs’ center Nic Dowd and redirecting into the top of the net.
In the second, Manchester would respond with a power play goal of their own off the stick of Nick Shore. Near the right point, Colin Miller would spot Shore wide open near the top of the left circle and fed him the puck. Shore would unleash a laser of a shot, beating Pirates’ goalie Mike McKenna top shelf.
The closing minute of the period saw Portland nearly retake the lead. Once again on the man advantage, the home team had Berube dead to rights as the goalie sprawled out of desperation. With a wide open net, the puck inexplicably stayed out, and the period ended shortly after.
After being outplayed for most of the game, Manchester would take the lead with 13 minutes left in regulation. Miller, once again with the puck at the right point, threw a simple wrist shot at the net, which was tipped home by truculent forward Josh Gratton for his first of the season.
Continuing his incredibly hot play, Zach O’Brien lit the lamp for the fourth straight game and fifth time in the last six games. Finding a soft spot in the Pirates defense, O’Brien took a great cross-ice feed from Gratton and fired a shot that slipped through McKenna.
From there, the Monarchs’ defense would take over and shut down Portland to close out the 3-1 win. Manchester (16-5-1-1) now has 34 points and sits second in the AHL’s Eastern Conference, with four games in hand on first place Springfield.
When called upon, Berube came up big time and time again. While his defense gave him a helping hand, keeping the puck out of the net near the end of the middle frame was key for the netminder. In a tie game, he continued to give his team a chance and didn’t allow for the momentum to shift towards the home team, after Manchester had fought hard to gain control of the play. He was not done there, however, as he also made a 10-bell save against former teammate Andrew Campbell, who had words for the goalie after taking away a sure-fire goal.
“To be honest, I didn’t feel really good to start [the game]. Most of the time when I don’t feel good, that’s when my focus is at its best. I knew I had to push hard and battle,” the French-Canadian said of his big night.
Night in and night out, Manchester has been able to count on their undoubted number one goalie. While he has given up goals that could be considered weak, he almost always rebounds in the same game to give his team a shot at two points. Notably, his glove hand has been lightning quick, giving most teams plenty of trouble, including Friday night.
In his third game in Manchester since being assigned to a conditioning stint, Andy Andreoff has played a stable game. Though he has only registered one point in those contests, he has created a plethora of scoring opportunities. His defensive game has been an asset, working well on the penalty kill and rarely blowing a defensive assignment.
Overshadowed by big name prospects like Shore and Jordan Weal, Brian O’Neill has been amongst the best forwards for coach Mike Stothers. With 22 points in 23 games, his offensive output has been even higher than last season, while providing great leadership to a team with a plethora of young players. The diminutive speedster is a heart-and-soul player, giving full effort on every shift he takes.
Returning to the lineup after missing two games was veteran forwad David Van der Gulik. The news wasn’t as good for Scott Sabourin, injured in the same game as Van der Gulik, who is expected to miss an extended period of time. Recently signed forward Paul Bissonnette did not make the trip with the team and likely will not play in either of the team’s next two games.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi attended Friday’s Monarchs game, as both his NHL and AHL clubs are on the East coast currently. The Monarchs return to action with a game Saturday at Worcester set to start at 7 PM.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:
Andy Andreoff – Nick Shore – Brian O’Neill
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
David Van der Gulik – Jordan Weal – Justin Auger
Josh Gratton – Ryan Horvat – Zach O’Brien
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Kevin Raine
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