Ian Clark's On Hockey: Monarchs' Cliche stays positive despite losses
The locker room is quiet. There is no music blaring, no smiles. And no player takes it harder than captain Marc-Andre Cliche.
Now in his sixth season with Manchester and second as captain, Cliche wears the "C" with pride and carries the fortunes of his team heavily on rugged shoulders.
"It's been a hard year on him from a leadership standpoint with so many youthful skill players (on the team)," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "He's used to having the (John) Zeilers and rugged guys that play the way that he's accustomed to be there with him in the leadership roles."
There are precious few veterans on the Manchester team. Assistant captains Andrew Campbell, Thomas Hickey and Rich Clune, along with David Meckler are the only other players who have been with the team for an extended time.
The Monarchs are a young team loaded with talented scorers that are rookies and second-year players.
They can score, but they also for the most part don't contribute much in the grit department. The corners, penalty killing, blocking shots, playing through pain. In short, the dirty work.
This falls to the captain and the captain does it all without complaint.
"He sees way more ice than he probably should. We lean on him in every capacity," Morris said. "He'll play hurt. He's been a warrior throughout his career for us."
Defense is always the last piece to fall in place for young players.
"It's been a struggle because he's trying to get those young players to realize the value of defense and what it takes to win in this league at this level," Morris said. "Especially now with other talented players here from the NHL (during the lockout)."
Late lapses in defense have resulted in numerous losses for the Monarchs, who played at St. John's Saturday night. One-goal leads or tied games have gone to the other team time and again and those sting Cliche.
"It's been frustrating for all the older guys. We know we're supposed to set an example and bring the team in the right direction," Cliche said. "Losing games the way we've been losing lately is so frustrating."
A second round draft pick by the New York Rangers in 2005, Cliche came to the Los Angeles Kings organization in a trade that sent notorious bad boy Sean Avery to New York in 2007.
Cliche has toiled in the AHL for 317 AHL games, second most in Monarchs franchise history to Meckler. He has been rewarded with just one NHL game, a lone glimpse at the top level back in 2010.
In many other organizations, Cliche would be a fourth line energy guy and penalty killer in the NHL.
And just when L.A. had taken notice, as Kings general manager Dean Lombardi mentioned Cliche as a player on the cusp earlier this season, the NHL has been out of commission.
But Cliche keeps grinding it out. Skating his shift and then some. His outlook for the season echoes his outlook on his career.
"We've got to stay positive," Cliche said. "We've got to move forward."
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Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at email@example.com.