After picking up both games at home to start the Calder Cup Finals, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see the Manchester Monarchs lose a game or two on the road, as the series shifts to Utica for three straight. While the team dropped Game 3 on the road, the bigger losses came when the team lost two players for the game in the first period.
The first of the losses came just minutes into the first period, when Brian O’Neill was viciously boarded by Alex Friesen. With both refs, including the incompetent Terry Koharski, watching, no call was made on the hit, and the AHL MVP went immediately to the locker room, where he did not return to the game.
Five minutes into the game, Utica broke through, doing something few teams have been able to do often against Manchester – score the first goal of the game. Cal O’Reilly scooped up a loose puck to the right of goalie JF Berube and beat the netminder cleanly with a wrister. Up 1-0, Utica held a lead for the first time all series.
Unfortunately for Berube, his night would not last much longer. Near the 8 minute mark of the game, Berube went down after stopping a shot to his right, looking to be in incredible amounts of pain. After being attended to by the trainer, Berube was helped off the ice, replaced by Patrik Bartosak.
Late in the first, Utica built themselves a two goal lead. Alexandre Grenier collected the puck in the neutral zone, entered the Monarchs zone, where he was defended by a Monarchs’ defenseman. Unfortunately, the defender did a poor job eliminating Grenier, allowing him to get a shot off, beating Bartosak short side over his pad.
With under a minute left, LA Kings 2014 first round draft pick Adrian Kempe cut the Comets’ goal to one. The play developed after Derek Forbort did a terrific job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone, allowing him to then get a shot off from the left point. His shot was blocked away in front, rebounding to the right side of the ice, where Kempe waited and pounced on the loose puck.
In the second period, Nicklas Jensen once again put his team up by two goals. The puck was passed off of the left boards, into the top of the close circle, where Jensen’s one-timer slid underneath Bartosak, who was screened by a plethora of bodies in front of him.
For the second time, Kempe quickly responded for the Monarchs. Coming in on an odd-man rush, Kempe held while letting the play develop before opting to shoot. His initial bid was stopped, but the Swede was able to bury the garbage left in front of the net.
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Manchester had many opportunities to tie the game, but Jacob Markstrom stood tall in net and shut the door the rest of the way, leading his team to a 3-2 win. With the victory, the series now stands at 2-1 in favor of the Monarchs.
After the game, O’Neill declined to speak to the media. The Yale alum looked to have taken some damage to his mouth, but the full extent of is injuries are unknown. Berube was seen with a walking boot on his right foot as he headed to the team bus.
If there is any good news for the Monarchs, it is that they are a very deep team. Throughout the entire season, players have stepped up when called upon. They also have a dependable backup in Bartosak, who is more than capable of picking up the ball and running with it in net. The Czech’s back has improved enough over the last few days for him to dress for the first time in the series. As an emergency option, the Monarchs signed Jeff Lerg in goal.
Speaking of Bartosak, the goalie played well in relief. He seals the ice well, and did a terrific job of using his pads to control and redirect rebounds. He must now show that he is capable of being a starter, as it is questionable that Berube returns to the series.
Though he didn’t score, Justin Auger had a strong outing on Wednesday. His play declined late in the season, and Game 3 was glimpses of early in the year, where the big man dominated. The combination of power and speed that Auger not only possesses, but can effectively implement, made him a threat on several occasions.
For the third straight game, Zach O’Brien was really good. He’s found a way to continually create offense, and constantly creates quality scoring chances. If O’Neill can’t return to the series, he is a prime candidate to play alongside Michael Mersch and Jordan Weal on the top line.
Game 4 will be played on Friday from the raucous Aud in Utica.
Full game highlights are available at the bottom of this article. Line combinations at the start of Game 3 were as follows:
Michael Mersch – Jordan Weal – Brian O’Neill
Adrian Kempe – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
David Van der Gulik – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
Paul Bissonnette – Andrew Crescenzi – Justin Auger
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Kevin Gravel – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Kevin Raine
*After Bartosak replaced Berube, Jeff Lerg dressed as the backup goalie.
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