In the nearly three weeks since the Monarchs have been on home ice, the team has accomplished a lot. In a losing effort, the team secured a playoff spot two weekends ago. Then, this past Monday, a Worcester Sharks loss meant the Monarchs were back-to-back Atlantic Division champions. Now, the last thing the team needs to do is secure home ice throughout the playoffs. Picking up another two points against the Portland Pirates on Friday night, the Monarchs are one step closer to achieving that goal with five games left in the regular season.
The Monarchs opened the scoring early in the first period. Just after failing to convert on a power play, Nick Ebert stepped in from the point and blasted a slap shot. Pirates goalie Mike McKenna was unable to stop a shot he would likely like back, and the Monarchs took a 1-0 lead.
A minute and a half later, the Pirates tied the contest at one. With the man advantage, Lucas Lessio took a backhand sauce pass from the point, skated down the left wing, and sniped one past goalie JF Berube.
Tied at one, neither team could score during the middle period.
Midway through the third period, the Pirates would take the lead on a weak point shot. After entering the zone with no teammates around him, Corey Trivino took a shot from the blue line that beat Berube. While a Monarch defender may have screened or redirected the shot, the shot came from the high point and should have been an easy save.
Late in regulation, Sean Backman would get the hometown crowd on their feet when he tied the game at two. Michael Mersch took a shot on net, and the rebound was followed up on by Zach O’Brien. The St. John native’s rebound shot hit the side of the net, where he collected the loose puck and found Backman in front of the net. From there, Backman put the puck into the back of the net.
A scoreless overtime period meant the game would go on to a shootout. The first two Portland shooters failed to register a shot, while Berube stopped the final shooter. As the last shooter, Backman came up with a chance to win the game. Going from forehand to backhand, Backman beat McKenna and gave the Monarchs the extra point in a 3-2 win.
Though he let in a weak goal, Berube made countless quality saves throughout the night. Time and time again, Berube was forced to make grade-A saves to keep his team in the game. While the play was relatively even, Portland had better scoring chances, and Berube was there to stop most of them.
“I felt really good, to be honest. I felt like I was on my game, even though [the] first goal, I think I should have had it, [and] the second goal I definitely should have had it. The good thing is they don’t say how they scored on the score sheet. I just battled through. I knew I was having a good game, and just tried to battle,” said Berube.
Playing his way up and down the lineup, Backman has quietly been a steady presence for his team. Capable of playing on the penalty kill and power play, Backman has proven to be a valuable commodity for coach Mike Stothers. The forward leads the team in shots, is a fast skater, and excels defensively. Friday, he came up big with many key players out of the lineup for his team.
Before the game, Jordan Weal was called up to the Kings and will play in their season finale versus the Sharks on Saturday. The call-up is well deserved to a player who has done nothing but produce over the past two seasons.
Weal, Brian O’Neill, and Colin Miller were all named second team AHL All Stars recently.
Captain Vincent LoVerde has been held out of the roster lately after suffering an injury on a recent road trip. Already shorthanded at center without Weal, the team lost Nic Dowd during the game, and he did not return. David Van der Gulik has also missed time hurt.
The Monarchs added one player, with another expected shortly. Alex Lintuniemi signed an amateur tryout contract to join the team. He isn’t expected to play any games on a deep Monarchs blue-line. Also in Manchester is Jonny Brodzinski, who recently signed with the Kings. Held out with an ankle injury, Brodzinski has been unable to skate and will be ready in two weeks. It has not been determined if he will play when he is healthy.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:
Brian O’Neill – Zach O’Brien – Justin Auger
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
Paul Bissonnette – Andrew Crescenzi – Kevin Raine
Josh Gratton – Ryan Horvat – Scott Sabourin
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Kevin Gravel
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Nick Ebert
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