Rarely can a team boast having two of their centers in the top 10 of league scoring. Not only can the Manchester Monarchs lay claim to this, but they find themselves with three of the top six scores in the AHL. While all eyes have been on Brian O’Neill and Nick Shore, numbers one and two on that list, as of late, the focus shifted to Jordan Weal on Saturday night. The shifty center scored the game-winning goal and added three assists as his team beat the Providence Bruins 5-4 in their last game before the holiday break.
Providence would take the early lead, scoring just 2:34 into play. A Kevin Raine clearing attempt was stopped at the blue line by Tommy Cross, whose wrist shot was tipped home by Anthony Camara in front of the net. Goalie JF Berube stood, expecting the high shot to be an easy save, but Camara’s deflection changed the angle too drastically for Berube to make the save.
Midway through the first, Manchester would add one of five overall power play goals on the evening to knot the game at one. After sustained, controlled zone time yielded no high quality scoring chances, Shore would take matters into his own hands. The puck worked its way from the right boards to Derek Forbort at the point, who fed Shore before the center walked in and slapped home the puck.
Five minutes later, Kevin Gravel would get his revenge after he was run into the boards by a Providence player. On the ensuing power play, Gravel set himself up on the point and worked the puck back and forth between himself, Weal, and Nic Dowd. Eventually, Gravel stepped into a hard shot that beat traffic and found the back of the net for the 2-1 lead.
Seconds later, the Monarchs lead was extended to two. Weal dug the puck out of the right corner and carried it into the slot, where David Van der Gulik would throw a weak shot on net. The rebound bounced off of Justin Auger’s foot, once again hitting goalie Malcolm Subban’s pad before Auger could get his stick on the rebound, putting it home and making it a 3-1 game. Auger asserted himself and utilized his size and strength to position himself well in front of Subban.
In the second period, Providence would add their first of two goals with the man advantage, as the highly skilled David Pastrnak beat Berube. After Berube scrambled to make a nice save, the Bruins kicked the puck out to Pastrnak in the slot, who scored with a wrist shot along the ice.
The visiting Bruins eliminated the Monarchs lead and tied the game at three when Brian Ferlin tallied a power play goal. Collecting a rebound along the boards, Ferlin stepped off of his man, broke towards the middle of the ice, and let go a heavy wrist shot top shelf.
After nine assists over his last two games, O’Neill found the score sheet on Saturday in another way – by scoring a goal to put his team ahead once again. On the power play, Weal dished off to Shore, who stepped in, and slap-passed the puck towards the net, hitting O’Neill’s foot and going into the net.
With under 10 minutes to go, Weal scored what would later become the game-winning goal. Sean Backman ringed the puck around the boards, where Zach O’Brien picked it up behind the net. Spinning 180-degrees, the winger found Weal in the slot, whose one-timer was perfectly placed to beat Subban.
Late in regulation, Providence would make it a game again when Pastrnak added his second of the evening. A horribly blown defensive coverage left the top prospect alone in the slot, where he tapped in the pass from Jordan Caron.
Despite the late push from the visiting Bruins, the Monarchs held on to win by a final score of 5-4. Heading into the break, the team holds a 20-6-1-1 record, good for 42 points and first place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.
With four points on the evening, Weal played one of his better games as of late. His ability to single handedly create offense is a rare trait, making Weal incredibly entertaining to watch. At times, he attempts moves that most would never think about doing, and that unpredictability can be lethal.
When Robyn Regehr went down with an injury for the Kings, the club called up Jeff Schultz. After being banged up in Friday’s game, captain Vincent LoVerde was unable to play on Saturday. With Colin Miller already out with an injury of his own, the once deep Monarchs defense found itself with only five defenseman. In need of a sixth blue-liner, coach Mike Stothers turned to an unexpected name – former NHL tough guy Paul Bissonnette. Though he hasn’t played the position since his junior days, Bissonnette held his own, though you likely won’t see him cracking the Kings defense any time soon.
“He’s played before. It’s been a long time, but I’ve seen him do it. He filled in real well for us. Now, he can’t do that long term for us, but in the short stint like tonight, he can get through a game or two. Hopefully when we get back from break, Miller and LoVerde will be back,” spoke Stothers on Bissonnette’s game.
The benefactor of having a short-staffed back end, Kevin Gravel saw increased ice time, including play on both the power play and penalty kill. Playing the increased minutes wasn’t an issue, as the St. Cloud State alum played extremely well. He continues to play solid hockey, while chipping in the odd goal every now and then.
Players will now head home for the holidays and the team will take the ice next on December 26 for a road game versus the Worcester Sharks.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Saturday were as follows:
Michael Mersch – Nick Shore – Brian O’Neill
Zach O’Brien – Jordan Weal – Sean Backman
David Van der Gulik – Nic Dowd – Justin Auger
Ryan Horvat – Andrew Crescenzi – Josh Gratton
Kevin Gravel – Andrew Bodnarchuk
Paul Bissonnette – Kevin Raine
Derek Forbort – Nick Ebert
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