For the first – and last – time in franchise history, the Manchester Monarchs are set to take on the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. With the Kings’ top minor league affiliate relocating to Southern California next season, the two clubs will be in separate conferences come October. For now, though, they will play a best-of-7 series to determine who will earn the right to play in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.
After securing the best overall record during the regular season with 109 points, the Monarchs will once again open their second round series with a pair of games at home, schedule for today and tomorrow. Then, the next three contests will be hosted by the Penguins. Should a Game 6 and/or 7 be needed, the series will move back to Manchester.
Earlier this season, the Monarchs went 3-1-0-0 against the Penguins, winning the first three games played. Kings goaltending prospect J.F. Berube, who will be manning the crease for Game 1, went 3-0-0 with a 2.00 goals against average and .906 save percentage in his three starts against the Penguins. However, Wilkes-Barre Scranton goalie Matt Murray led all AHL netminders in GAA (1.58) and save percentage (.941). While only one of his 40 starts during the regular season came against Manchester, he did post a 32-save shutout in early March, backstopping a 3-0 win.
Offensively, Kings 2010 draft pick Jordan Weal led all Monarchs scorers with seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in four regular-season games against the Penguins. Weal went on to tie Michael Mersch for the team lead in goals (5) during the Monarchs first round victory over the Portland Pirates.
Mersch not only led Manchester during that opening round with eight points (5 goals, 3 assists), he was the star of Game 5’s series-clinching victory, where he found the back of the net twice, including the game-winning-goal early in the third period.
Manchester coach Mike Stothers waxed on about Mersch’s ongoing development after his team eliminated Portland from post-season play (read those comments here). Arguably the Monarchs best player over the final few months of the season, Mersch was among the league leaders for rookies, finishing the regular season tied for second in goals (22), tied for the seventh most points (45), was second in shots on goal (223), and his plus-20 rating was fourth best.
Further, his eight points (5 goals, 3 assists) in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs led all AHL players. His five goals mark the most by a Monarchs rookie in the postseason since Dustin Brown also scored five goals in the 2005 playoffs. Among AHL rookies during the playoffs, Mersch ranks first in goals (5) and shots on goal (16), with his plus-5 rating sits tied for first. He also already has the most points in a single postseason by a Monarchs rookie since Dwight King (9 points), Andrei Loktionov (9 points) and Corey Elkins (8 points) in the 2010 playoffs.
Not to be lost in all of the MerschMania is a significant milestone from Adrian Kempe. Selected by the Kings in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, the Swedish native only arrived in North America a few weeks ago, surrounded by much hype and expectation. He made three starts for Stothers and the Monarchs over the final weekend of the regular season and suited up for four games in the opening round of the playoffs. None were more memorable than Game 5, where he scored his first goal, captured in the picture above, the final tally posted by the Monarchs in their 5-3 victory.
To talk about that goal, several of his Monarchs teammates, and a brief preview of Round 2, Kempe shared the following thoughts with MayorsManor…
On the importance of getting his first goal out of the way:
“The first one is always so hard to get. It’s tough, and sometimes you need some good luck. I had a couple chances to score a couple games before, so it was really good feeling when I finally scored the first goal.”
On how is adjust to the AHL has gone:
“It’s been a little tough, it was pretty hard in the beginning to get into it. It’s a really fast game and it’s a little bit tough because you don’t have as much time with the puck as you do in Sweden, because it’s a smaller rink here. So, it was a little bit harder than I thought [it would be], but I think I got into it pretty fast. It took about one or two games before I was really used to it. [Thus], it was pretty hard in the beginning, but I got into it pretty quickly and I think my play fits pretty good on the smaller rink.”
On the difficulties of jumping in with a new team in the midst of the playoffs:
“It can be pretty hard to get into a whole new team after playing in Sweden my whole career and I just got here, but the team has taken really good care of me since I came here. I’m really happy to be here, thought, and the players and coaches have been nice to me. They’ve helped me get to practice and the games and everything. It also helps that we’re a really good team and we should go [far in the playoffs].”
On what he’s done to help assimilate into the team and transition his game to the North American rinks:
“I usually stay after practice and do drills with the development guys. Also, I have watched a lot of video to learn the system and things too. I think I learn pretty fast and I’ve been staying after almost every practice to work on things I need to improve to play over here. I’ve been working with the assistant coach, the head coach, O.C. [Mike O’Connell, from the Kings’ development group], and a few other guys.”
On living at the hotel and perhaps bonding with some of the other prospects who have been added to the team recently:
“Yeah, exactly. I’ve been living with [Valentin] Zykov and [Jonny] Brodzinski has been living with Lintu [Alex Lintuniemi]. Us four are always together; we go to the rink and go eat and stuff together, so that’s cool.” [ed note: see the bottom of this article for some of their twitter fun]
On the conversation between that rather international foursome:
“It’s pretty hard for me and the Finish and the Russian to speak good English, so we kind of like to make fun of each other when we say the wrong thing in English. That’s pretty fun. I think Lintuniemi is the leader [of our pack]; I don’t know why though. Brodzinski talks just as much. When I met him at last summer’s Development Camp [in Los Angeles], he was pretty quiet and I didn’t get to know him too well there. But after being here for a couple days, we talked and now we’re really good friends; we talk a lot.”
On the potential challenges of playing on a line someday with Zykov and Brodzinski – everybody might just shoot, who would pass the puck:
“They are really good goal scorers with really good shots and really good hands too. Maybe I’ll have to be the playmaker.” [lots of laughs]
On playing with Jordan Weal:
“It’s been really good. He’s a real skilled player, probably one of the most skilled players I’ve ever played with. He’s a really, really good skater, and he’s really smart too. He’s good, both defensively and offensively too, he’s a real good player. He’s probably one of the best players I’ve played with so far.”
On if he’s developed on-ice chemistry with anyone so far:
“I don’t know yet. I don’t really know all the players so well on the ice yet. I have played with nearly every player on the team, so there’s no player I have played a lot more with. That makes it pretty hard to say right now. But I like playing with Wealer because [I’ve started to learn his tendencies] on the ice, and I know what he wants to do.”
On what he knows about Wilkes-Barre Scranton:
“I’ve heard a little about them; they are a really good team and it’s going to be a tough series against them. They have good D and some real fast players at forward too, so we’ve got to be awake and just play our game, I think. We’ve played some really good games since I came here. We’re just looking forward to playing them and playing our game.”
On how long it takes him to feel an opposing team out:
“Before I came here, it would be about a period and then you know if they’re a physical team or if they like to make some [fancy] plays. Against Portland, I felt after a couple shifts I could tell they were a really physical team. It was pretty hard to play against them. I hope it will only take one or two periods [to properly gauge] the next team too.”
On who will score first in the second round, him or Michael Mersch:
“I think that would be me because I scored the latest goal and I’m still hot.”
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When lintu tries to teach me finnish pic.twitter.com/03nXslhG9Z
— Adrian Kempe (@adriankempe) May 2, 2015