For the last time ever, the Manchester Monarchs took the ice on Saturday for an AHL regular season contest. After 14 years in the great city of Manchester, the end is near, as the team gears up for a playoff run before transitioning into an ECHL franchise. In their regular season farewell, the Monarchs delivered for their fans, by way of a 4-2 victory over long time rivals, the Worcester Sharks.
In front of one of the most raucous crowds on the year, the Monarchs got the scoring started early, lighting the lamp 32 seconds into the contest. A Nic Dowd faceoff win saw the puck drawn back to Nick Ebert, whose point shot was deflected in the slot by Michael Mersch for the goal.
Five minutes later, San Jose Sharks 2014 1st round pick Nikolay Goldobin would square the contest away at one. As the teams battled for the puck in the corner, a Sharks forward found the puck and threw it towards the front of the net, where Goldobin redirected it home.
Midway through the first, the Monarchs would bounce back with another goal, this time off the stick of Scott Sabourin. Ebert pinched down into the offensive zone and received a pass from one offensive corner towards the other. Stepping out towards the net, Ebert attempted a pass into the slot, which missed everybody and found its way to the point. There, Andrew Bodnarchuk’s slap shot was stopped by goalie Troy Grosenick before Sabourin buried the rebound.
Once again, Goldobin would answer for his team, netting his second of the evening. When Alex Lintuniemi attempted a pass behind his own net, Evan Trupp was there to interfere, as he intercepted the pass and found Goldobin alone in the slot for a one time goal.
Concluding an action-packed first period, Jordan Weal found his way on the score board by becoming the Monarchs fourth 20 goal scorer on the season. Anticipating the d-to-d pass the Sharks were attempting, Weal jumped up on the play and intercepted the pass, and found himself alone in front of Grosenick, beating him with a wrist shot.
An uneventful second period passed with neither team lighting the lamp, meaning the Monarchs carried their 3-2 lead into the final 20 minutes of regulation.
The Monarchs would dominate possession in the third, controlling the tempo of play, eventually ending in Josh Gratton scoring into the empty net late in the game.
In goal for the Monarchs, JF Berube picked up his 37th win of the season. With Patrik Bartosak starting Sunday’s regular season finale, Berube ends with a 0.913 save percentage, a 2.18 goals against average, with a record of 37-9-4, including two shutouts. His second half of the season saw his performance dip, meaning those numbers could have been even better. Nevertheless, it was a tremendous year for the young goalie.
Playing on the top line, Adrian Kempe had another solid outing. On Saturday, he created more scoring chances than he did in Friday’s game, yet there were still areas of improvement. Of note, Kempe is taking far too wide of turns, a habit generated by his play in Sweden, where they use the much wider Olympic sized ice surface. Once again, there were still some kinks to work out regarding learning the system, but those will come with time. His greatest asset is still his speed, which is tremendous.
Lintuniemi had a notably weaker game on defense than he did on Friday. He made a few mistakes and had some mental lapses that he will likely want back. All in all, the Finnish blue liner is still young and has plenty of room to grow.
It seemed to be a tale of two seasons this year for Mersch. In the first half, there were notable struggles, as he fought the puck and couldn’t seem to do much offensively. After the midway mark of the year, something clicked with Mersch and he began to play at a much higher level, becoming a key contributor to the offense and being one of the team’s four 20 goal scorers. His skating still needs work, and his shot could still use a bit more velocity behind it, but if his second half was any indication of his potential, the Kings will once again have found a tremendous steal in the draft.
With one game left before the playoffs start, Sunday’s game in Providence will likely be a good tune-up game for a team who has missed a few key players of late. Notably, Vincent LoVerde is scheduled to return to the lineup for Sunday’s match-up. Jeff Schultz will likely rejoin the team too, as both defenders try and get back up to game speed.
Another name to look to joining the team is Valentin Zykov, whose QMJHL team was eliminated on Friday night. As one of the Kings’ top prospects, Zykov would possibly be a big boost to a team that already has had a dominant season.
Speaking of the playoffs, Sunday will determine who the Monarchs face in the opening round. If Portland registers a single point in their game versus Worcester, the Pirates are in as the number eight seed and will square off versus Manchester in a best-of-five series. If they lose in regulation, the Springfield Falcons are the team the Monarchs will face. Portland likely is a better match-up for the Monarchs, as Portland’s defense and goaltending will likely not be able to stop a talented Monarchs’ forward group. MayorsManor has learned that a playoff series is likely to start with games on Thursday and Friday, or games Friday and Saturday.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Saturday were as follows:
Adrian Kempe – Jordan Weal – Brian O’Neill
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
David Van der Gulik – Andrew Crescenzi – Scott Sabourin
Josh Gratton – Paul Bissonnette – Kevin Raine
Alex Lintuniemi – Colin Miller
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Nick Ebert
Derek Forbort – Kevin Gravel
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