action:article | category:sports | adString:sports | zoneID:40

Home » Sports

March 27. 2012 11:23PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: Road trip to test Monarchs' mettle

Tyler Toffoli, shown playing for the Los Angeles Kings during an exhibition game last September, may be on his way to Manchester after his junior season concludes. (US PRESSWIRE)
It was a strong weekend in Monarchs Country, but with just eight games remaining and the playoff race incredibly tight, there's little room for error.

Manchester plays at Portland tonight at 6:30. The Monarchs beat Portland, 5-0, Saturday and Worcester, 5-1, Sunday and are 35-30-3 for 73 points and seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

Portland is in 11th place at 30-29-8 for 68 points, just three behind Syracuse in the eighth and final playoff spot. Overall, the teams in sixth through 14th are separated by just eight points.

“It's a hard place to play and the teams aren't separated by much,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “It will be a real good test for us and everybody's fighting for points at this stage of the season. There's no question it will be a fun game.”

Manchester has won four of its last five games to strengthen its playoff hold. Thanks to a 2-5-3 span for Bridgeport, the Monarchs are now only two points out of sixth place, though the Sound Tigers have two games in hand. Manchester plays at Bridgeport Sunday in a huge game.

The Monarchs' strong play as of late comes down to finally getting enough healthy bodies on the ice every night.

Players ending their junior and college seasons could also be added soon, tops among them highly touted prospects Tyler Toffoli and Jordan Weal, each of whom had brief stints in Manchester last season and should get extended looks this year.

“We're real fortunate right now that everybody is healthy and we've got a couple guys waiting in the wings,” Morris said. “And in a couple weeks, we'll probably have a couple more guys that are fresh off of junior playoffs and perhaps college guys. It's nice to be healthy.”

The good health has meant Morris has been able to roll four lines and trust everyone on the ice. Contributions have come from all over the lineup as all four lines have been strong, but one in particular has stood out.

Stefan Legein and Trent Hunter, centered by AHL Player of the Week Justin Azevedo, have been on fire as of late. Over the past seven games the trio has combined for 14 goals and 10 assists.

“They're having fun. You can tell,” Morris said. “I think a big part of that equation is just knowing that Trent Hunter brings that veteran leadership. I think he calms those guys down, but I also think he keeps them honest. He says all the right things and he's been around hockey a long time.”

Over that span, Hunter has two goals and three assists. He sets a tone with his hustle and physical play and then gets the puck to the speedsters.

“I think Azzy and Lege, the three of us have jelled pretty well together. They're playing unbelievable hockey right now,” Hunter said. “Everything that's on their stick goes to the back of the net. It's fun to watch and fun to be a part of.”

Azevedo has been the big gun and is on pace for AHL Player of the Month honors with nine goals and four assists in the past seven games. He scored four goals in a win at Portland two weeks ago and hasn't slowed down.

“It's pretty much Azzy, everyone is hopping on his back right now,” said Legein, who has 3-3-6 of his own over the past seven. “He's got something going for him now and hopefully, he doesn't change it. We've been playing good. We move the puck well and get open for each other.”

Following the trip to Portland, Manchester plays another big game in the standings Saturday when it visits 13th-place Worcester (28-26-11 for 67). The Monarchs are on the road for six straight starting tonight and won't be home until the final weekend of the season, April 14-15.

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

 NH Sports Angle more
Links to news and happenings around the world of sports with a Granite State connection, updated daily.

Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk, right, tangles with Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask in the first period of Game 1 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinals hockey playoff series in this 2013 file photo.

NH-based insurer sues NHL to limit its defense in players concussion lawsuits

A's claim former Fisher Cat Marcus Walden

Mariano Rivera's son to pitch for NH squad

Kevin Davis, CEO and president of Bauer Performance Sports, displays Bauer Hockey's latest innovation in hockey skates — the Vapor APX 2 with easily changeable skate blades in this 2013 file photo.

Exeter-based Bauer continues to expand beyond hockey with $330M purchase of baseball firm Easton-Bell

Hollis-Brookline head football coach resigns unexpectedly

New owners for Waukewan Golf Club

Matches announced for USA v. Cuba clash at Rockingham Park this weekend

Boston Marathon victim Jeff Baumann throws out the first pitch prior to the start of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Fenway Park last year.

Service's creed on display in support of airman affected by Boston bombing

40-year-old Manchester mechanical engineer wins MMA decision

New Hampshire Motor Speedway touts viability of casino site in Loudon

USA Knockouts Tamed in Cuba

U.S., Cuba boxers clash in Havana, U.S. bouts set for Rockingham Park in Salem

Lee USA Speedway opens season April 13

Newmarket woman plans world-record cross-country run for charity


Is Chip Kelly racist?

World Series of Boxing event moved to Rockingham Park - USA vs. Cuba

Manchester man in top 30 candidates for Padres public address announcer

NH man helps MLB players deal with stresses on, off the field

Review of the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook

New Hampshire Motor Speedway may run Sprint Cup race in 2015 under the lights

How Boston lost the Patriots and 'New England' grabbed the NFL's 'Gold Standard'

Twin State Speedway gets new manager

Yale promotes former UNH coach to offensive coordinator

Bulldogs sign UNH's Nick Sorkin

Flyers Notes: Flyers sign speedy New Hampshire forward


 New Hampshire Events Calendar


Upcoming Events

 New Hampshire Business Directory