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December 23. 2011 10:45PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: Holiday cheer from Bruins, Monarchs

It truly is a merry Christmas for pro hockey fans in New Hampshire.

The Boston Bruins entered Friday night’s game with Florida with a record of 23-9-1 for first place in the Northeast Division.

Meanwhile, the Manchester Monarchs are enjoying their Christmas break with a record of 18-11-2, good enough for second place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division.

That’s a combined record of 40-20-3. How about that for some holiday cheer?

Winning always makes it easier to be a fan, but the Bruins and Monarchs are helping their own causes with lunch pail work ethics, character and playing styles that make both teams fun to watch.

Blue collar describes both clubs. There’s more grit than finesse on these teams and that’s always been something fans can identify with.

Hard work in the corners, bruising body checks and a willingness to drop the gloves? Check, check and check for both of your local pro clubs.

That’s not to say that either one isn’t capable of some highlight reel goals.

For both teams, much of the firepower comes from the young guns.

Second-year Bruin Tyler Seguin has all the earmarks of being a marquee NHL name for years to come.

The Monarchs have several young players with the promise of NHL destinies like rookie Linden Vey (seven goals, seven assists).

“If you look at the growth of Vey so far and guys like (rookie Robbie) Czarnik and Ray Kaunisto, who has come along way, we’ve seen great improvement,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris.

A healthy dose of guts and character also has been a key factor in the first half for both teams.

Injuries have hit both the Bruins and Monarchs throughout the year and both teams have kept rolling along despite lineups jostled on a nightly basis.

Manchester is hit particularly hard right now with forwards Richard Clune, Justin Azevedo and Jordan Nolan all sidelined with injuries.

Clune will be out for approximately six weeks because of surgery on a nagging abdominal injury.

Azevedo (a sniper) and Clune (a nasty physical presence) are veterans and Nolan is having an impressive sophomore season that has seen him take a big step from the raw talent he displayed as a rookie.

The absence of that trio could be the excuse for failure. Instead, the Monarchs continue to pile up wins and are 4-1-0 in their last five during the injury inundation.

“You look at those guys (missing) and you often wonder, ‘can we overcome this?’” Morris said. “But our guys have responded every single time and that’s very rewarding to see those guys making that kind of progress.”

It’s part of the fighting spirit that both the Bruins and Monarchs have shown.

Boston shrugged off a sluggish start to put together a torrid November and December.

The Monarchs have survived injuries and the call-up to Los Angeles of two key players, Russians Andrei Loktionov and Slava Voynov.

The end result is a pair of local teams that already have delivered some serious entertainment and promise even more as the new year dawns.

- - - - - - - - -



MONARCHS BACK TO WORK: After having one week off from game action, the Monarchs get back to the ice Monday against Providence in a 7 p.m. game at Verizon Wireless Arena.

Manchester has been strong against the P Bruins this season, racking up a 3-1-2 record.

Providence remains in last place in the Atlantic at 13-15-3, but has been hot lately with four consecutive wins.

While several young prospects — Zach Hamill, Jordan Caron and Steven Kampfer — are spending much of this season up with the big club in Boston, the Providence club still has a handful of players to keep an eye on like Carter Camper (7-13—20) and Josh Hennessy (9-7—16).

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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