Ian Clark's On Hockey: Monarchs' newcomers answer call
MANCHESTER -- Don't count the Manchester Monarchs out yet.
A strong weekend showing on the road garnered the Monarchs five out of a possible six points in the standings with wins at Worcester and Bridgeport and an overtime loss at Portland Sunday. Manchester (24-24-6, 54 points) entered the weekend six points out of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, but it is now just three back.
"In the big picture, we're pretty pleased with five out of six points," Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said. "It would have been nice to have six but heading into the weekend with five (players on pro tryout agreements) and the injuries and the call-ups and the guys that were plucked off waivers . that's a lengthy list. They would be a pretty good hockey team."
The newcomers to the team, Colton Yellow Horn, Hunter Bishop and Matt Case, have brought a youthful exuberance to the Monarchs.
"Lots of new faces, lots of enthusiasm. In some regards, it's been a breath of fresh air to see guys that are gung-ho and are hungry to further their careers," Morris said. "Their energy has been a positive thing for our hockey team to see guys pulling for one another and trying to help each other out. Over the course of the season and people's careers, you might take it for granted that teammates need a helping hand. In a strange way, it's brought this group a little bit closer."
The younger players continue to learn the nuances of the pro game, thrust into larger roles with expanded ice time.
"As guys gain experience in new, important roles with the team we've seen growth in individuals and guys that are working toward becoming more complete hockey players," Morris said. "We're a team that has a lot of young skill and teaching the value of defending has been a big challenge. But guys have been thrust into duty here and we're starting to see them understand aspects of their new roles and in the long run, it's helping them become a more complete player."
With backup Peter Mannino injured (leg), goaltender Martin Jones has taken on the extra work and thrived.
"We've seen him shoulder more of the work load and we made no bones about it," Morris said. "He can't just be average. He's got to be better than average. He's got to be good, real good in order for us to weather the storm and find more continuity to our game."
Jones has welcomed the challenge.
"I enjoy playing a lot. It's nice to get those minutes and get in a rhythm," Jones said. "It's easy to have a short memory when you know you're going to play a lot. It's easy to bounce back when you do have a bad game."
The Monarchs still have a lot of work to do to gain a stronger foothold on the playoff race and a trip to St. John's for two games this weekend will be a tough test. But the team has shown a willingness to fight with the season on the line.
"It's definitely a step in the right direction. Getting five out of six points is huge for us. It's getting to the point where it's do or die now," said forward Brandon Kozun. "Every game is important. It's going to be tight and we're going to have to play good hockey from here on out. Five out of six is a start and we have to build on it."
THE MONARCHS are expected to announce one or two player transactions today as the injuries continue to pile up. David Meckler and Tanner Pearson were injured over the weekend and others such as captain Marc-Andre Cliche, Stefan Legein and Brian O'Neill remain sidelined.
"We practiced (Tuesday) with 10 forwards and six D," Morris said. "It becomes a challenge practicing when you can't work on what you need to work on because you don't have the numbers to execute what you're trying to work on. We had to improvise."
FORMER University of New Hampshire star Darren Haydar was named AHL Player of the Week on Monday. Haydar scored four goals and added three assists in three games with Chicago last week.
Hockey East Player of the Year in 2002, Haydar has never been able to make it stick at the NHL level, playing in just 23 NHL games (with a goal and seven assists) in his 11 pro seasons.
But he has been an outstanding AHL player and is captain of the Wolves, scoring more than 50 points in a season 10 times. In 2006-07, Haydar put up huge numbers with 41-81-122.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.