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April 04. 2013 10:15PM

Now or never for Monarchs

Mark Morris called his team's quest for an American Hockey League playoff berth a "daunting task," but he also remembers last season when the Manchester Monarchs managed to squeak into the post-season.

"Last year was a great example of overcoming the odds when we won our last three regular-season games to qualify for the playoffs," said Morris. "This year, we don't have a whole lot of flexibility, but I'm hopeful our guys will approach the last three weekends with the same type of attitude last year's team had to make the playoffs."?Manchester begins an important stretch of five home tilts in six games today when it hosts the Portland Pirates at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena.

On Saturday, the Providence Bruins invade the Queen City for a 7 p.m. game before the Monarchs conclude the weekend with a road game at the DCU Center Sunday against the Worcester Sharks at 3 p.m.

The Monarchs will host Connecticut (7 p.m., April 12), Hershey (7 p.m., April 13) and Worcester (3 p.m., April 14) the following weekend at Verizon Wireless Arena. Their last three regular-season games are on the road.

Manchester (31-29-3-4, 69 points, 67 games played), with nine regular season games remaining, is currently in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. They trail eighth place Hershey (32-26-3-6, 73 points, 67 GP), ninth place Norfolk (33-30-4-1, 71 points, 68 GP) and 10th place Albany (29-26-1-11, 70 points, 67 GP) in the standings.

"We can't let the big picture get in the way," said Morris. "We have to concentrate on one game at a time. I mean literally one shift, one period, one game at a time."

Morris said he's very passionate about qualifying for the Calder Cup playoffs and doesn't want this team to miss it for only the second time in the franchise's 12-year history. The one time Manchester missed the playoffs was the 2008-09 season.

Morris said goalie Peter Mannino (10-7-0, 2.47 GAA) will be sidelined for the remainder of the year. "He still hasn't been able to get full leg extension after taking a hard shot to the inside of his leg," said Morris. "We decided to shut him down and it's too bad. He's a character guy, a level-headed season pro and we miss his presence in the locker room."

Ty Rimmer, a 21-year-old from Edmonton, Alberta, was signed to back up Martin Jones (21-23-4-4, 48GP, 2.64 GAA) for the remainder of the year. Rimmer played for the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the Western Hockey league and in 65 games this season, he posted a 24-30-10 record for a 3.19 GAA and one shutout.

Jean-Francois Berube, who was backing up Jones, was sent to the ECHL to play for the Ontario Reign. "He just needs to play more," said Morris of Berube.

Tonight marks the 12th and final regular season meeting between Manchester and Portland who will decide the inaugural VIP Cup that goes to the winning team based on head-to-head points. Portland (6-4-1-0 against Manchester) currently leads the series, 13-12.

"The Monarchs have to win in regulation in order to win the VIP Cup," said Kimberly Mueller, Vice President of Public Affair for the Monarchs. "Portland has the goal differential tie-breaker (202-193) if Manchester wins in overtime or a shootout. The VIP Cup will be awarded to a winner (tonight) as it's the last game between the two teams this season."

In an effort to raise money to help increase the awareness of autism and other developmental disabilities, the Manchester Monarchs are teaming up with Play4Autism and The American Special Hockey Association.

Today at 4 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena the Battle of the Badges championship game between the Manchester Police Dept. and the Connecticut Police and Fire will face-off. A portion of the proceeds from every ticket sold for tonight's two games will benefit Play4Autism and the ASHA.

To purchase tickets online, visit www.monarchsjungle.com/play4autism. For more information, contact Alan Fritch at 626-7825 ext. 6135 or Greg Vasicek at 347-738-6324.

One may also go online to afritch@Manchestermonarchs.com or info@play4autism.org.


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