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November 22. 2011 10:28PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: Monarchs on a roll

MANCHESTER - The Manchester Monarchs have surged back to a .500 record with four wins in their last five games and will look to win a fourth consecutive game tonight when they host the Worcester Sharks at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena.

Manchester (9-9-1, 19 points) and Atlantic Division rival Worcester (6-4-4, 16) have met twice in the past two weeks, with the Monarchs taking one-goal wins both times.

“We’ve seen a lot of them. They play a real gritty style. They’re very quick to pucks and they play a smothering type of defense. When they’re on their game, they’re awfully tough to find space against,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “It’s a bit of a chess match at times. They’re well-coached and they work their tails off. When you’re up against that, you know you’re in for a real challenge.”

Manchester’s recent improvement has come through hard work and more consistent play through 60 minutes of hockey. Contributions from all over the lineup have also been a big part of the equation.

“We’ve had excellent goaltending and different guys are stepping up to help us in the goal-scoring department,” Morris said. “It’s been scoring by committee and that’s exactly what has to happen to get ourselves moving forward and improving.”

The defense has also tightened up.

“I think we’ve had better defensive efforts, which translates into more offensive opportunities,” Morris said. “I think our compete level is improving each time out and we seem to be making fewer critical mistakes at key times.”

The types of wins are also encouraging. All four of the most recent wins have been by one goal.

“We’ve played in a lot of tight games and we’ve had a taste of what it’s like to grit it out and find a way to win,” Morris said.

Getting those close, hard-fought wins builds character on a team and the Monarchs have been able to win games both by coming from behind and holding onto leads late in the game.

“I think a lot of it is confidence. We’ve been able to get on a run here and go on a bit of a streak,” said goalie Jeff Zatkoff. “We’ve been making the small plays and everyone is working hard and it seems like things are starting to come together.”

The goaltending play has also been strong as of late and Morris said he will continue the rotation and Martin Jones will start tonight.

Even though most of the Monarchs hail from Canada (where Thanksgiving was celebrated last month), the team will be getting together in a few groups on Thursday.

A couple of Ontario natives, Campbell and Rich Clune, will be hosting Clune’s family for the holiday. American Ray Kaunisto (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.) will host a pot luck dinner as well.

“Most of the guys are away from their families so it’s nice to have a spot to go and hang out,” said Cam Paddock, himself another Canadian from Vancouver.

“I think it’s really important. Usually it seems to be that the good teams are able to hang out and have a good time with each other,” Paddock said. “You’re usually put in a dressing room with a lot of new guys every year and whenever you get a chance to hang out away from the rink, I think it’s beneficial.”

Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is iclark@unionleader.com.


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