When Michael Mersch went down thanks to a hit from Dylan McIlrath in the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, fans collectively held their breaths. In the previous two games, the forward had totaled five goals and been an integral part of what is arguably been the best line in hockey throughout the playoffs. It should come as no surprise then when Mersch returned to the lineup for Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals and made a massive impact.
The forward scored two goals, two Michael Mersch goals, including the OT winner. What makes Mersch’s goals different? They’re always a battle. He doesn’t score the pretty goals that Jordan Weal scores, nor does he use quick skating ala Brian O’Neill to bury the biscuit. Mersch knows his job – go to the net, park your rear in front of the goalie, and go to work. And that’s what he did. Twice. And the Monarchs’ won on the back of his second one.
While Mersch’s success isn’t a surprise at this point of the post season, neither is the success of Weal. For my money, Weal has been the most dominant player in the AHL in the playoffs, and this comes after yet another tremendous regular season. Cases could be made for guys like Teemu Pulkkinen out West, but the way Weal can absolutely take over a game is scary.
What has been the biggest improvement from last year to this for the speedy forward? His puck possession skills have been outstanding. For a guy who only stands 5-foot-9 at best, Weal possesses the puck like someone 6-foot-4 or bigger. And it was this skill that set up O’Neill on the opening goal of the game.
Mersch and Weal had tremendous games, but did anybody have more quality scoring chances than Zach O’Brien? Doubtful. The Newfie had at least four or five really good scoring chances, but simply couldn’t bury them. If he plays the same way in Game 2, you’d have to think he lights the lamp eventually.
The curious case of JF Berube continues. He played incredibly well in net during the first period, faced only three shots in the second, and then let in a very weak goal early in the third. And yet again, the goal was a long range shot, something Berube has struggled with all post season. At the end of the day, one weak goal didn’t sink the ship, and despite people who are overly critical of said goal, Berube was excellent on the night.
After taking a hit last night, Jeff Schultz left the game and didn’t return. He unofficially played only 2:56 in the game before heading to the dressing room. Stepping up in his absence, Andrew Bodnarchuk and Vincent LoVerde both clocked over 30 minutes of action, and both looked great doing it. Schultz was spotted sporting a sling, but there was no update after the game on his status. Look for Nick Ebert to draw in for him for Game 2.
Also on the injury front, Patrik Bartosak suffered from back spasms and could not dress to back up Berube. Steve Mastalerz was on the bench for Game 1, and he was brought in exactly for this reason – an emergency situation where a goalie couldn’t go. If you feel like you’ve heard Mastalerz name somewhere before, he made news back in March by being the goalie of record in a college hockey game that went to five overtime periods, where he made 75 saves.
Don’t expect any lineup changes for Game 2, outside of the previously stated move for Schultz.
Lines for Game 1 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
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Kevin Gravel
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