Ian Clark's On Hockey: Veteran Meckler eyes playing time
With an expanded roster through the first 35 games of the season due to the NHL lockout, Meckler was often on the outside looking in, a healthy scratch despite being the franchise leader in career games played with 357.
"It's been very frustrating," Meckler said after Friday's 7-4 Monarchs win over Albany. "Everyone wants to play, whether it's me or someone else. It's not fun to sit in the stands, but you've got to be a good teammate and support the guys and do what you can and be ready when you get a chance."
Meckler made his way back into the lineup a few weeks ago and has been a solid presence ever since. On Friday, he nearly had two goals before ending the night with zero after a scoring change.
Initially credited to Meckler, Manchester's sixth goal ended up being awarded to Brian O'Neill, whom scorers ruled tipped Meckler's shot before it went in. Meckler had another chance on a breakaway, but Devils goalie Jeff Frazee made a nice stack-pad save to deny him.
Regardless, the effort on Friday from the 25-year-old, sixth-year veteran was good all night.
"I thought Meckler played pretty darn good. I was happy with his energy level, what he brought," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "He's strong on the puck. He almost scored on the breakaway, he scored a big goal for us when we needed it."
The departure of forwards Dwight King and Jordan Nolan to join parent club Los Angeles should mean more ice time for Meckler. And Morris has been clear with what Meckler needs to do to be in the lineup.
"He and I are on the same page, we understand things. My message to him is 'you've got to give me reasons to play you,'" Morris said. "You've got to bring something other than vanilla. We're looking for either goal-scoring or banging or playing feisty. Whatever it is, you've got to be good in some capacity so it gives me an opportunity to play you when we've got so many bodies to get in and out of the lineup and trying to balance our loyalty to our veterans and trying to keep the young kids coming along with their development."
Meckler has two assists in 15 games and is happy to be playing regularly again and is confident he can stick.
"I've been here for a while and the organization knows what I can do and I know what I can do so when I get my chances, I feel good," he said.
And Morris knows Meckler wants to show that he deserves to keep playing.
"I think he's got things to prove yet," Morris said. "He was the odd man out for a long time. I'm happy that he's been able to show his colors and show up big for us."
Today's 3 p.m. game at Providence is another key Atlantic Division battle for the Monarchs. Manchester has won three straight and improved to 17-15-4 for 38 points, pulling back into seventh place in the Eastern Conference thanks to three straight wins to start 2013.
Providence entered its game with Springfield Saturday night tied with Manchester for points at 18-13-2, 38. Portland has gone 8-2 over its last 10 to move into first place with 44 points, but the spread in the Atlantic isn't likely to be very wide through the stretch run and all of the games between Atlantic teams are huge.
The P-Bruins could be without several key players if they get the call to join Boston. Chris Bourque (son of Bruins legend Ray) leads Providence in scoring with eight goals and 20 assists. Bourque, along with a few others like Carter Camper and defensemen David Warsofsky and Matt Bartkowski, should get a look from Boston.
As for Manchester, with Martin Jones nursing a hamstring injury, goalie Peter Mannino will get the start again today. Mannino is 9-4-0 and seems to find a way to win more often than not, but he struggled in Friday's 7-4 win and Morris called him "sleepy at times."
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.