Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals may have been the most trying contest of the Manchester Monarchs’ season. Already without Jeff Schultz, the team lost AHL MVP Brian O’Neill and goalie with the most wins in the league in JF Berube. How they responded on Friday for Game 4 was nothing short of extraordinary, as the Monarchs’ turned out a 6-3 victory and are now within a single victory of winning it all.
After flying out of the gate to start the game, it wasn’t a surprise to see the Monarchs score first. As the Utica Comets tried to clear, Sean Backman stepped up, intercepted a pass, cut through two defenders, held, and beat a sprawling Jacob Markstrom.
Under a minute later, it was almost the same story, as the visitors’ lead was pushed to two. The clearing pass hit Nic Dowd in the helmet, and when the puck dropped, Dowd made no mistake burying it far side to make the game a quick 2-0.
Immediately after Dowd’s goal, Comets’ coach Travis Green called timeout and rallied his troops. They responded with flying colors, wasting no time tying the game. First, a puck kicked out from the right boards to the middle of the point found its way onto Frank Corrado’s stick, who unleashed a perfectly placed shot into the top left corner of the net as Patrik Bartosak was being screened.
With just over a minute to go in the first, Utica’s second goal came with a man advantage. A pass from the left side of the ice to the right set up Sven Baertschi for a beautiful and hard one-timer, which Bartosak got a piece of, but not enough to stop it.
Early in the second, the Monarchs’ once again took control of the game and didn’t let go this time. Sean Backman dug out a clear into the offensive corner and allowed the puck to be worked by the Monarchs at the point during their own power play. Eventually, Jordan Weal at the center point passed to his right to Colin Miller, who walked in and wristed a laser to the top of the net.
Minutes later, another power play goal made it a 4-2 game. After sustained pressure, Michael Mersch had the puck behind the net and tried to wrap it around and tuck it past Markstrom. A scramble saw the puck make its way to the far post, where Nick Shore was patiently waiting and was able to score.
As the period closed, it appeared the Monarchs would carry a two goal lead into the third, something Utica had already eliminated earlier in the night. That is when Dowd found the puck in the neutral zone, worked up the left boards, and sniped a shot with only 10 seconds on the clock. His second of the game deflated both the Comets and the energy in the building from their raucous fans.
In the third, Adrian Kempe scored for the second straight game, something he has now done twice in the post-season. Towards the right side of the offensive zone, Shore had great vision to find Kempe as he came in from near the left point. A blast off the stick of the Swede beat his countryman Markstrom and made the game an unreachable 6-2.
Late in the game, Will Acton added a goal to make it 6-3. Bartosak stopped an initial shot from the left boards, but the rebound when to the far side of the ice, where Acton pounced on it and put it home.
Nevertheless, the Monarchs’ coasted the rest of the way to victory, as the team now holds a 3-1 series lead in the Calder Cup Finals and is one 60 minute effort away from being crowned champs.
The first period was a tale of two periods, as Manchester controlled the play, and the score, for the better half of a period. After calling timeout, it was Utica grabbing the reigns until the buzzer sounded.
An absolutely pivotal point of the game came later in the second period, as the Monarchs’ found themselves down two men after back-to-back delay of game calls. The unit of Nic Dowd, Vincent LoVerde, and Andrew Bodnarchuk put on an utter clinic, as they severely limited the options Utica had, helping kill both calls and not allowing the Comets’ to score.
Although he doesn’t think of himself as one, Dowd has shown over his hockey career that he is a clutch player. The Alabama native has scored massive goals at incredibly important times. When at St. Cloud State, he buried an overtime game-winning goal against Notre Dame in the NCAA Regionals. Now as a pro, he’s scored the same type of goal in the Calder Cup Finals, on top of having a huge two-goal effort in what was an absolutely pivotal Game 4.
How good is Jordan Weal? Well, to answer my own question, incredibly good. His name isn’t all over the score sheet, but man can the diminutive Weal continually find ways to be a threat offensively. He will be an NHLer next year.
After questions about whether he would play or not were continually asked, O’Neill came out and played a good game. In the press conference with coach Mike Stothers after the game, we were told that there was no way O’Neill would be held out of Game 4, as the Yale Bulldog would not take being out of the lineup as an answer.
Utica has 24 hours to figure out a response. The team is down 3-1 and did something they can’t do if they wanted a chance to win this series – lose one at home. The Monarchs’ will not be beat on their own ice. They haven’t all playoffs, and they won’t start now. Expect the Comets to come out flying, as they try and push the series back to Manchester for a Game 6.
As for the Monarchs, here is the chance they’ve been looking for all year. The Calder Cup will be in the house. You have worked all year for this. You are one 60-minute effort away. The team knows the situation they’re in, and the challenges they’re about to face in Game 5. If they play their game, there’s more than a good chance a champion is crowned on Saturday night.
Line combinations for Game 4 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 – Nick Ebert
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