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January 18. 2013 12:20AM

Division test for Monarchs

After a rollercoaster roster ride over the past week, the Manchester Monarchs will be back in action for three Atlantic Division games this weekend.

Manchester (17-17-4, 38 points) plays at Worcester (19-15-4, 42) tonight at 7:30 p.m., then hosts the Providence Bruins (19-14-2, 40) Saturday at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena for "L.A. Kings Night" and closes the weekend at home Sunday against Portland (23-13-2, 48) at 3 p.m.

Those are the three teams above Manchester in the standings, so this weekend has major implications for all teams involved. The Monarchs come in off a 7-5 loss to Springfield on Tuesday.

"Three huge games and we've got to use (practice time) to shore up our defensive zone and play with a lot more poise with the puck and without it," Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said. "We can ill afford to squander points like we did (Tuesday)."

On that night the Monarchs had to play with the emotional burden of having lost two long-time players who were very popular with their teammates. Thomas Hickey and Rich Clune were claimed off waivers, leaving an already depleted Manchester roster (due to call-ups to Kings camp) paper thin.

"There's a lot of disarray right now with so much movement and all the stuff that's going on in the organization so there's not a whole lot of continuity," Morris said.

As of Thursday there had been no additions to the roster, which means the Monarchs still only have five defensemen, one fewer than they would normally play with. The Kings are expected to make roster moves today that will help Manchester.

But even with the turmoil and challenges, the Monarchs know all they can do is play hockey. They also know the other AHL teams are also going through the same thing as NHL teams try and lock down their rosters.

This weekend provides a chance for the Monarchs to rally and show that they are mentally tough.

"With the NHL re-starting like this, you want to send a message to all the teams in your division because every team changes. It's like a fresh start for us," said Monarchs captain Marc-Andre Cliche. "We want to get in there and get as many points as we can. It's like a second season for us."

Rookie goalie J.F. Berube was returned to Ontario of the ECHL on Thursday, which indicates that Martin Jones will be back from his hamstring injury to give Peter Mannino a break. With three games in as many days, Manchester will need two netminders this weekend.

This is one of the busiest stretches of the season for the Monarchs, with six games in nine days between Jan. 18-26.



iclark@unionleader.com

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