The Manchester Monarchs have found plenty of ways to win hockey games this season. With the roster in constant flux due to injuries and call ups, the team relies on players to step up and lead the team to victories. On Friday, the line of Jordan Weal, Zack O’Brien, and David Van der Gulik would be the ones to fill that role, as their combined 6 points helped Manchester beat the Springfield Falcons 4-2.
Early in the first, the Monarchs would get the first goal of the game when Nick Ebert scored his fifth goal of the year. The puck moved from below the goal line to the point and across to Ebert, who stepped into a shot and blasted one past Oscar Dansk to the top of the net.
After a rather uneventful first period ended, the hometown Monarchs would net their second of the night early into the middle frame. Driving towards the net, Weal would deliver a slick backhand pass to O’Brien, who beat Dansk in close for the 2-0 lead.
Five minutes later, it was Van der Gulik’s turn, as the team scored their third of the night. Winning a race to a loose puck, Weal drew the puck back to O’Brien, who one-touch passed across the crease to Van der Gulik for an empty-net tap-in.
Under 45 seconds later, Springfield would bounce back with a goal of their own. After entering the offensive zone, Luke Adam’s initial shot was stopped and goalie JF Berube left a rebound directly to his left, where Domenic Monardo would push the puck home.
Late in the period, Mike Richards would add his second goal of the season on the power play. Collecting a cross ice pass, Kevin Gravel got the puck off his stick quickly, finding Richards alone on the doorstep, who simply had to chip the puck over Dansk, who was down and out on the play.
Once again, the Falcons would find a quick response, as Mike Hoeffel beat Berube to make it a 4-2 game. With the puck along the left boards, Hoeffel simply threw the puck on net from a bad angle and found a way to beat the Monarchs’ goalie.
The Monarchs would close out the third period with neither team finding the back of the net, and the final buzzer would sound signifying yet another two points for Manchester.
Friday was a much better game for Ebert, who has had his struggles this year. He finally found a way to contribute offensively, releasing a tremendous point shot that would beat many goalies. Despite this, the mistakes are still in his game and will likely remain there until he can get more substantial work in with the Kings development staff. For instance, Ebert made an ill-advised attempt to step up and hit an opponent at the red line, which allowed Springfield an odd-man rush towards Berube.
One player who has rarely had a bad game this year has been O’Brien. Friday was a whale of a game for him, as he not only had a goal and an assist, but made several key plays in other aspects of the game. He continues to find ice time on the penalty kill and makes strong defensive plays, especially for a player who was known as a more offensive player in juniors. It wouldn’t be out of the question to see O’Brien sign a contract in the off-season with an NHL team, the same way Vincent LoVerde did with the Kings after his first full AHL year last year.
“[O’Brien] is the type of guy [where] the more he’s around, the more you appreciate what he does. He’s another guy that’s very quiet – he just comes in and does his job. Nothing is really flashy, but as a coach, you get to watch him every day and see what he does. He’s so versatile – he can play on any situation, [and] any line,” Stothers said of O’Brien.
It would have been easy for Richards to come to Manchester, sulk, and play poor hockey. That simply hasn’t been the case, as Friday was another strong showing for the NHL veteran. His positioning at both ends of the ice has been superb, while his effort level has been very high. The center, who turned 30 on Wednesday, has been a key component to the Monarchs’ recent successes since joining the team.
When on top of his game, few can match the creativity and skill of Weal. Scoring at nearly a point-per-game clip, Weal is often the catalyst for the Monarchs potent offense. One of the best traits of Weal is his ability to find success no matter who is on his wing.
“[I] just try to be always open for them. Hockey is a big support game. I feel like if you work hard to get open for your teammates, you’re going to make everyone’s life easier, even for yourself,” said Weal. “It’s just one thing I’ve worked on for a while. I try to strive towards it. It’s something that makes personal success better, and team success better.”
The team was without the service of both Derek Forbort and Jeff Schultz, as the former was recalled by the Kings and the latter is dealing with a lower body injury. Stothers described Schultz return as “close”.
Andrew Crescenzi sat out while serving the first of a two game suspension for kneeing.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:
Brian O’Neill – Mike Richards – Sean Backman
David Van der Gulik – Jordan Weal – Zach O’Brien
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Justin Auger
Josh Gratton – Paul Bissonnette – Scott Sabourin
Vincent LoVerde – Kevin Raine
Kevin Gravel – Colin Miller
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Nick Ebert
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