The Manchester Monarchs have found a pleasant surprise on the blue line.
Two defensemen that started the season with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL have been pressed into extended action with the Monarchs due to call-ups and other roster shakeups. But the pair, Vincent LoVerde and Chris Huxley, have played well as the team's third defensive pairing.
"On a daily basis those guys come in and they watch video and they ask questions. They're real students of the game," Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said. "I think they take great pride in being here and they want to take full advantage of the opportunity. They've been very steady and consistent. They're extremely coachable."
LoVerde has had two stints in Manchester this season, coming up briefly early in the year when David Kolomatis and Andrew Campbell were both sidelined with injuries. His return since early January has been for a longer period and LoVerde had played in 24 games heading into Saturday night's game against St. John's.
A 5-foot-11, 205-pounder out of Chicago who played at Miami-Ohio, LoVerde has scored a goal and two assists.
"There's been lots of movement lately (with the roster) and an opportunity to play lots of minutes. When you have those opportunities you have to perform well," LoVerde said. "As you increase your time here you're obviously more familiar with people, more comfortable and develop relationships with people. It makes you more comfortable in the locker room and on the ice. The more comfortable you are, the better you're going to perform."
Huxley was signed to a pro tryout agreement in late January and has skated in eight games heading into Saturday, recording three assists. He's no stranger to New England, hailing from Weymouth, Mass. and having played at Harvard.
"It's a great opportunity and I think it's going well," Huxley said. "I think I'm getting better every day and I just have to keep pushing forward."
Defensive play is obviously key to their positions and can be a tough part of the game for younger players to adjust to as they move up to the next level. But LoVerde and Huxley have been steady in their own end, as shown by LoVerde's plus-minus rating of plus-5 and Huxley's plus-6.
The combo played together in Ontario, which has been a big help at the AHL level.
"He's been my defensive partner for the past two years. There is definitely a comfort level there," LoVerde said. "You know the other guy's tendencies, which always makes it a bit easier. I'm comfortable with him and it's been good."
"You have the same communication, you're used to playing with each other and you read off each other," Huxley said. "The body language, you know when he's turning one way or the other whereas with a new guy you're kind of figuring it out."
The pair have also been making use of the Monarchs' video equipment, studying game film with assistant coach Freddy Meyer.
"I'm personally a guy who loves to watch film. I think it really helps me," LoVerde said. "I think you see things that you wouldn't normally see during a game. It shows you options or other things that develop on the ice that you miss during the game."
It's hard to argue with the end result as LoVerde and Huxley have come through with reliable play in a season that has been challenging for the Manchester coaching staff.
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The Monarchs close the weekend at Connecticut today for a 3 p.m. game. Manchester will be away from the Verizon Wireless Arena for six games including today and will not be back at VWA until March 6.Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.