In the history of the Manchester Monarchs, the team has never made the Calder Cup finals. Though they have come close through their 14 season existence, they have never had a chance to fight for the AHL’s sacred trophy. On Wednesday, the team had a chance to sweep the Hartford Wolf Pack and make team history by winning the Eastern Conference title for the first time ever.
Typical to Monarchs hockey, the team flew out of the gate and started the scoring early on. Just over three minutes in, Kings prospect Nic Dowd buried a loose puck for his fourth goal of the post season. The puck took a strong bounce off the boards after Kevin Gravel’s point shot went wide, and went towards the net, where David Van der Gulik was able to backhand the pass to Dowd.
Hartford would draw even at one a minute and a half into the middle frame. Oscar Lindberg took the puck behind the net, skated out to the right for, and took a shot on net. Ryan Haggerty was able to bat in the rebound in front of JF Berube.
Five minutes later, the Monarchs would once again pull ahead 2-1. Sean Backman worked his way along the board and behind the net, where he threw a pass into the slot. Nick Shore fanned on his initial shot, which allowed Adrian Kempe to get his stick on the puck, scoring on his second chance.
Carrying a one goal lead into the final 20 minutes of regulation, the Monarchs were one period away from making team history. Hartford came out flying, determined to push the series to a Game 5 back in Manchester. However, the Monarchs’ stout defense thwarted every chance the Wolf Pack could muster up.
League MVP Brian O’Neill would add an insurance goal, and extend his team’s lead to 3-1. Sustained possession during a delayed penalty saw the speedy forward take a pass after a controlled zone entry and snipe a shot top shelf.
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Pulling the goalie with nearly three minutes on the clock, Hartford threw everything but the kitchen sink at Berube and the Monarchs. The team and netminder held strong, closing out both the game and the Wolf Pack, sweeping the series 4-0 and advancing to the Calder Cup Final.
Criticized at times for his play during this playoff stretch, Berube once again stepped up in a big game. While he faced very few grade-A chances, he made all the saves he needed to. After allowing seven goals in the last two games, only one got past the Kings prospect. If he plays as well as he did during Game 4, Manchester becomes a team that can light the lamp and keep the other team off the board – an almost unbeatable combo.
For the second straight game, Kempe lit the lamp, as the ultra impressive 18 year old Swede has looked better by the game. The Kings’ 2014 1st round pick has had to deal with being snake bitten as well, as he has been unable to convert on a slew of quality scoring chances. With every game of experience under his belt, the winger looks more and more impressive.
Another youngster who seems to have found his groove is Gravel, who played simply outstanding hockey. Positionally, the St. Cloud State alum was top notch. The most impressive aspect on display during Game 4 was his stick work. His ability to use his hands to escape trouble with the puck on his stick was wonderful to watch.
On the other end of things, Jordan Weal played below the standards he has set for himself this post season. With Michael Mersch out of the lineup and not able to create space for him, Weal had far less room to work all game.
Speaking of Mersch, the rookie, who has been scoring at a torrid pace of late, was held out of the game due to injury. The University of Wisconsin alum took a huge hit from rough Wolf Pack defender Dylan McIlrath the night before. Though he returned to the bench later in Game 3, Mersch’s status worsened the next day, forcing him to miss the decisive Game 4. After the game, coach Mike Stothers said the wingers condition was progressing, and the rest the team will now get will help immensely in getting Mersch game ready.
With the sweep, the Monarchs have ensured a few days of rest, which will also allow them to sit and watch as the Grand Rapids Griffin and Utica Comets battle it out for the Western Conference title.
Of the two teams, Utica is likely the easier matchup, as Grand Rapids may be the only team in the league capable of scoring goal-for-goal with the Monarchs. Teeny Pulkkinen has done nothing short of destroy the AHL after being sent down by Detroit, and avoiding a dance with him would be in the best interest Manchester.
On top of the matchup, Utica makes for easier travel, as the team could bus up to New York instead of having to fly to Michigan. That flight would likely also affect the schedule of a series with the Griffins, as the AHL being a lower budget league does not allow for most teams to fly to their opponents unless absolutely necessary. Thus, a matchup with Grand Rapids would most likely see a 2-3-2 format for home and away games, instead of the traditional 2-2-1-1-1. Either way, the Calder Cup Final will open with a pair of games in Manchester on June 6 and 7.
Full game highlights and postgame quotes (including the funniest Berube interview you’ll ever read) are down below, while line combinations and defensive pairings for Game 4 were as follows:
Brian O’Neill – Jordan Weal – Sean Backman
Adrian Kempe – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
David Van der Gulik – Nic Dowd – Justin Auger
Ryan Horvat – Andrew Crescenzi – Paul Bissonnette
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Kevin Gravel
MORE GAME 4 COVERAGE:
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