MANCHESTER — The Manchester Monarchs schooled Norfolk 3-1 on Education Day and earned head coach Mark Morris his 300th professional win in front of 7,182 (mostly) school kids at Verizon Wireless Arena Wednesday.
Morris is the first coach to win 300 regular season games at both the college and pro levels. Manchester improved to 10-2-3 on the season and will play at Portland Friday before coming home for “Mullets in Movember” Saturday against Norfolk at 7 p.m.
The Monarchs were led by the line of Brian O’Neill, Sean Backman and Londonderry’s Ian O’Connor. O’Neill scored a pair of goals, O’Connor assisted on both and Backman finished with three shots and a plus-one rating.
“Those guys are coming on like gangbusters. I really like what I see,” Morris said. “Their leadership abilities and maturity permeates the room. We’ve known about Ian from last year and Oni and Backman have known each other since college, so watching that chemistry develop has been heart-warming.”
O’Neill and Backman were linemates at Yale and O’Connor has blended nicely with them.
“We played together pretty much every game in college. There’s a lot of chemistry there,” O’Neill said. “We all see the ice pretty similarly. When you have three players that are on the same page it really helps a lot, especially on the forecheck and in the defensive zone.”
Manchester took a 1-0 lead at 15:05 of the first period, but it took a few minutes for the goal to be placed on the scoreboard. Andy Andreoff’s wrist shot from the right circle beat Viktor Fasth (down from Anaheim for conditioning) over the shoulder and under the bar, but the in-and-out happened so fast that play continued. On the next stoppage, the shot was reviewed and the goal was awarded .
Monarchs rookie goalie J.F. Berube kept the score 1-0 with a highlight reel save in the final minute of the first period. Peter Holland passed across to Maxime Sauve for a one-timer, but Berube slid to his right and kicked out his toe to make the save.
Manchester will need Berube sharp, since he will be the top netminder for an undetermined timeframe. Martin Jones was called up to Los Angeles, leaving right after leaving the bench following the game. Jones was called up because Kings starter Jonathan Quick left Tuesday’s game with an injury.
“Hockey is about opportunity and this is a good one for me,” Berube said. “I’m excited for that and the guys have been playing well in front of me or Jonesy. It helps everyone when everyone is working hard.”
The Monarchs extended to a 2-0 lead at 2:27 of the second period. O’Connor made a pass from behind the net to O’Neill deep on the right side and O’Neill cut across the top of the crease to shovel a backhander past Fasth.
Norfolk got one back at 9:54 of the second. Max Friberg circled behind the net and then fed Matt Beleskey in the slot for a one-timer that beat Berube low.
O’Neill’s second goal of the game pushed Manchester to a 3-1 lead at 13:22 of the second. A quick transition out of their own zone led to O’Connor sending O’Neill into the offensive zone with a sharp pass at the blue line and O’Neill finished with a laser wrist shot to the far post.
Norfolk (7-5-3) pressured in the third period, registering 10 shots after getting just 14 in the first two frames. But the Monarchs weathered the storm and got Berube his first win of the season in two games and closed out Morris’ 300th victory.