Ian Clark on Hockey: Monarchs earning an 'A' in chemistry
MANCHESTER - On what should have been the best night of his pro career, Manchester Monarchs forward Tyler Toffoli was not able to enjoy it.
After recording his first professional hat trick to lead the Monarchs past Portland, 5-1, a week ago, Toffoli got the news that his grandmother had passed away. Instead of calls back home to Scarborough, Ontario, to talk about his game, he was instead on the phone making arrangements to fly to Canada for her services.
"When I heard the news after the game in Portland I was heartbroken. No one ever expects that to happen," Toffoli said. "I flew home for a few days and it was good to see my family and talk to them and go over the memories and all the little things that you want to think of when someone in your family passes away."
The Monarchs' top goal scorer, Toffoli missed Friday's game with Worcester and then joined the team on Saturday night for a shootout win at Springfield. Toffoli scored a goal in the game and let his grandmother know it was for her.
"He's got lots to play for. I noticed (Saturday) when he scored that he pointed to the heavens," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "I'm sure that this a real emotional time for him and it gives him reason to play hard. He's been very good for us."
Getting back to hockey and his teammates has helped the 20-year-old Toffoli to heal.
"That's what my dad told me to do. Just try not to think about it. I got to think about it enough when I was home for the two days and it's definitely not something anyone wants to go through," Toffoli said. "It's good to be back with the guys. They've been great for me."
Toffoli didn't stop with the goal Saturday, adding another for his ninth of the season on Sunday in an overtime loss to Portland. Toffoli has four assists to go along with the goals for 13 points, second on the team to Brandon Kozun (5-11-16).
He played in one regular-season game last year (scoring a goal) and five playoff games with Manchester (with one goal) after lighting up the OHL with Ottawa for two seasons. Toffoli scored 57-51-108 and 52-48-100 in those two years.
Toffoli plays right wing on a line with fellow rookie Tanner Pearson the left wing, and second-year player Linden Vey ,the center. The trio is playing at a high level right now.
"Over the last few games and the last couple weeks I think we've been getting some chemistry together and things are starting to click. It's our job to create and contribute offensively," Vey said. "When you have that much skill on a line it's easy to play. Everybody brings something different to the table. As long as we keep our feet moving and working hard I think we'll be really good."
Defense is always the last thing to lock into place for gifted young forwards, but Morris is trusting that line with a lot of ice time in key game situations for first-place Manchester (9-6-3), which hosts Springfield Friday night.
"I think we've been doing a good job. For the most part I think we're playing well with the puck and protecting the puck," Toffoli said. "Hopefully, we keep going and keep helping the team win games."
Morris is also liking the quick chemistry the unit has developed. It bodes well for their future.
"They're generating a lot of our offense right now. They're guys that are extremely gifted and when they have the puck on their stick they're certainly fun to watch," Morris said. "They seem to enjoy playing with one another and you've got guys that are good around the net on that line and it's great to see those guys developing that chemistry this early in their careers."
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FORMER Monarchs goalie Barry Brust set an AHL record on Saturday night by stretching his scoreless streak to 268:17, breaking the mark of legend Johnny Bower (249:51).
Brust is 5-0-0 with Abbotsford and leads the AHL in goals-against average (0.59) and save percentage (.978) with three shutouts. Brust played with Manchester between 2005-07, going 28-21-1.
At age 29, Brust seems to have had a career resurgence after spending last season with Straubing of the DEL, an elite league in Germany. Brust was 19-12-0 there with one shutout.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.