Allen Lessels' On Hockey: Fan Favorite Kozun lifts Manchester to win
MANCHESTER -- THAT'S WHAT Fan Favorites do. That's what goal scorers do.
Brandon Kozun started his day collecting the New Hampshire Union Leader's Fan Favorite trophy in pre-game ceremonies on Manchester Monarchs Fan Appreciation Day at Verizon Wireless Arena in front of a crowd announced at 9,019.
He and the Monarchs ended it celebrating a 3-0 win over the Worcester Sharks.
Martin Jones tossed a 32-save shutout and Kozun scored the game-winning goal just before the halfway point of the third period.
Defenseman Vincent LoVerde put a puck on net and it popped up and Kozun, camped just outside the crease of Worcester goalie Alex Stalock, waited patiently for it.
"It was spinning pretty hard and I was trying to wait for it to settle down a bit," Kozun said. "I didn't think the goalie knew where it was. I kind of figured I had a little bit of time."
Then he whacked it in for his team-leading 26th goal of the year. He also has 30 assists.
"Koz was in the right place at the right time," said coach Mark Morris. "Goal scorers have a way of knowing how to do that."
The Monarchs matched their season-high four-game win streak with the triumph, finished off a perfect weekend at home and kept the pressure on in the quest for an American Hockey League playoff berth.
"We're halfway there," Morris said. "We figured we needed to run the table to get in and it's pretty true."
The Monarchs went into the weekend with a half dozen games to play in the regular season.
They were perfect in the first three with wins over Connecticut, 3-1, on Friday and Hershey, 4-3, on Saturday, leading into Sunday and their last regular-season home game.
They hit the road for the final three, at Binghamton on Friday, Wilkes-Barre on Saturday and Hershey on Sunday.
The Monarchs are 35-31-3-4 and have climbed to within two points of the eighth and final playoff spot. They are tied with Hershey for ninth place with 77 points.
Norfolk and Connecticut both lost on Sunday and they are tied for seventh place with 79 points each. Portland, which lost to Hershey on Sunday, sits in sixth with 81 points.
"We'll do a little scoreboard watching," Jones said. "But all we can do is go win our games and see where we end up."
Jones made 15 of his saves in the third period.
"I thought Jonesy was great in net," Morris said. "We kept the pressure on them in the third period. They played hard, but we played harder."
The Sharks were certainly not going away as the game wound down.
They went on the power play when Brian O'Neill was called for tripping with 2:47 to play.
Manchester forward Tanner Pearson stole the puck with a great effort near the Monarch blue line and raced to the Worcester end on a two-on-one and set Linden Vey up perfectly in front. Vey, another goal scorer, knocked in his 21st of the season.
"That was a bit of a nail in the coffin," Kozun said. "It was huge."
Marc-Andre Cliche scored another short-handed goal, into an empty Worcester net, with 57 seconds left.
Soon, the Monarchs had their fourth straight win and before too long were taking their shirts off their backs and presenting them to raffle winners to close out another Fan Appreciation Day and a home season.
The appreciation, by the way, goes both ways.
"It's an honor," Kozun said of his Fan Favorite award. "It's pretty cool that the fans appreciate me and I appreciate that. I've had a couple of good years here and it's definitely an honor, that's for sure."
Others honored before the game along with Kozun, who was picked by a fan vote, were Vey with the Ace Bailey Most Valuable Player Award as voted by Monarch players and coaches, Andy Andreoff with the Mark Bavis Unsung Hero Award as voted by the players, Andrew Campbell with the Monarchs Community Service Award as voted by the Monarchs Care Foundation and Vey with the Monarchs Booster Club Player of the Year Award as voted by the Booster Club.