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December 29. 2012 10:18PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: Rookie center Andreoff opens eyes with grit, skill

MANCHESTER -- Monarchs rookie center Andy Andreoff has quietly carved out a nice niche for himself.

The 21-year-old, 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Pickering, Ontario, brings a nice blend of toughness and skill to the Monarchs, who played at Bridgeport on Saturday night and will host Worcester Monday at 7 p.m.

"He's learning how to play with more urgency. He's got an aggressive style that is a valuable asset to your team," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "If you want to play rock 'em, sock 'em he can do that. If you want to play a skill game, he knows how to stickhandle and find open men around the net. He continues to work on his defensive game and recognize potential threats as he learns how to defend."

Monarchs enforcer and eight-year pro Justin Johnson has played in just four games and David Meckler, himself a veteran of six seasons in Manchester, has been a healthy scratch in all but 11 games.

So the fact that Andreoff has played in 27 of 31 games this season is significant.

"Mark's been putting me in on the third or fourth line, the checking line," Andreoff said. "I've been trying to battle hard in the corners, getting pucks deep, making sure you get out of the D zone first, that's very important. It's the little things."

Teamed with left wing Rich Clune and right wing Brian O'Neill as of late, Andreoff's line has been logging solid minutes and working well together. The veteran Clune plays a similar style and offers mentorship to Andreoff.

"I think they play off one another a little bit. They know they've got some edge to their game and they'll finish checks and command respect," Morris said. "With the number of skilled players we have that don't play that style, they certainly add an element to the makeup of our team. "

The line can also provide offense from time to time. Andreoff has four goals and two assists this season. He scored a huge goal on Wednesday night, lighting the lamp for the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Sharks.

"He made a great decision to shoot the puck with Clune driving the net," Morris said. "Clune driving the net had to put a little doubt in (goalie Alex) Stalock's mindset and Andy threw it over (Stalock's) shoulder on the strong side. It was good execution all around."

Andreoff will drop the gloves and can score on occasion. Those areas are just fine. But like most young players, Andreoff's defensive game is an area targeted for improvement.

"I was struggling at the start but I've been improving and watching video," Andreoff said. "Coach has been teaching me a lot and the older guys have been telling me what to do. I've been learning as the games go by and gaining confidence."

After his best season of junior hockey (scoring 33 goals and 42 assists with Oshawa in 2011-12), Andreoff came on to play in five regular season games with Manchester and another four in the playoffs.

That time was helpful, but his steady presence in the lineup this year has been invaluable.

"I feel pretty confident at this point," he said. "The experience is helping out and the more games I play, the better I get."

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The Monarchs lost at Worcester, 2-1, Friday night and lost at Bridgeport, 4-1, Saturday night. Up next is a visit from Worcester on Monday at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena for the third game in six days between the teams.

The game will be followed by the annual fireworks show.
.

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Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at iclark@unionleader.com.

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