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October 03. 2012 10:17PM

A place to play hockey


Three members of the NHL Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup Championship team in 2011-2012 from left, Jordan Nelson, Andrei Loktionov and Slava Voynov, gather during media day at the Portland Pie Company on Wednesday in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)


Hubie McDonough, director of operations, during media day for the Manchester Monarchs hockey team, at Portland Pie Company, on Wednesday, in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)


Andrei Loktionov, left, and Slava Voynov, from Russia and who also played on the Stanley Cup winning Los Angeles Kings team last year, during media day for the Manchester Monarchs hockey team, at Portland Pie Company, on Wednesday, in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)


Andrei Loktionov, left, and Slava Voynov, from Russia and who also played on the Stanley Cup winning Los Angeles Kings team last year, during media day for the Manchester Monarchs hockey team, at Portland Pie Company, on Wednesday, in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

JORDAN NOLAN wasn't expecting to be at the Portland Pie Company eating pizza Wednesday.

He finished last season with the Los Angeles Kings, hoisting the Stanley Cup in a wild celebration after they finished off the New Jersey Devils in six games during the Cup finals. Nolan was the last player to touch the puck, flipping the puck out of his zone before joining the pigpile of joyful players once the final buzzer sounded.

That was supposed to be the start of Nolan's new life as an NHL player.

Then came the lockout.

And now Nolan is back in Manchester playing for the Monarchs, back in the American Hockey League.

“Obviously it was disappointing there was a lockout,” Nolan said during the team's media day at Portland Pie. “You train all summer to prepare yourself for NHL camp and that's where you want to be, obviously.”

But there was no camp for the Kings or any other NHL team. By failing to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, the owners and players are engaged in their fourth work stoppage since 1992.

The last time there was a lockout was in 2004 and there ended up being no NHL season. It was one of the longest work stoppages in the history of professional sports and nearly crippled the NHL.

So much for learning from past mistakes.

Part of the fallout from the lockout is the impact it will have on the Monarchs and the other teams in the AHL. Expect the league to at its best, similar to 2004 when almost every team had three or four players who should have been in the NHL.

Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, Erik Staal, Dustin Brown, and Patrice Bergeron were among the promising young NHL talents in the AHL that season.

Freddy Meyer, the New Hampshire native who is in his first year as the Monarchs assistant coach, was playing for the Philadelphia Phantoms in 2004 and said playing in such a talent laden league made him more prepared for the NHL.

“Off our team alone we had 10 guys who played in the NHL the following year,” said Meyer, who went on to play parts of seven NHL seasons. “Any time you play against better players, you're going to become a better player.”

Monarchs coach Mark Morris thinks some of the more veteran players on the team will get a chance to impress NHL coaches and general managers who now have more time to spend watching the AHL. Hubie McDonough, the team's director of hockey operations, believes the lockout season helped Mike Cammalleri establish himself as an NHL regular.

Cammalleri rode the shuttle between Manchester and Los Angeles for two years trying to show the Kings he was capable of being a top-six forward. He led the AHL in goals in 2004 and became a regular in the NHL the next season.

Maybe someone like Rich Clune, a 25-year-old scrapper who has had two brief callups by the Kings two years ago, will make the most of his chance this season.

“All the scouts and guys in the NHL are going to watch hockey and we're the only league that is playing,” Clune said. “They're going to have notes and they'll have watched closer. I'm more suited now to play in the NHL, so, yeah, hopefully they'll take notice.”

The Monarchs open their season in eight days when they travel to Providence to play the Baby Bruins on Friday, Oct. 12. Their home opener at the Verizon Wireless Arena is a week later against Providence.

Maybe it's not the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but Nolan knows things could be worse. He could be Dwight King.

King, like Nolan, played for the Monarchs last year before being called up to Los Angeles for its run to the Stanley Cup. Unlike Nolan, who is eligible to join the Monarchs because he is still on an entry level contract, King signed a new contract this summer and is now locked out. Nolan said King is back home in Canada itching to play hockey.

“There's not many options to choose from,” Nolan said. “I feel pretty fortunate to play here.

E-mail staff writer Jim Fennell at jfennell@unionleader.com.


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