ANOTHER WEEKEND, another young player stepping up.
This time, it was rookie Zach O'Brien who had a big weekend for the Manchester Monarchs (16-5-5). O'Brien scored three goals and added a shootout goal in a win at Portland to help the Monarchs earn three points on the weekend.
"He's a great player. He's got some finish to him and we played him in all situations and the more you give him, the better he gets. I'm encouraged," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "I really like his game and we had no problem sticking him in when I cut it down to three lines there (Sunday against Worcester). We got a lot of mileage out of him playing as a regular. Zach did a fine job for us."
Signed to a pro tryout agreement in the middle of November, the 5-foot-9, 178-pound native of St. John's, Newfoundland, was playing with the Kings' ECHL affiliate in Ontario. He had some tough luck after arriving in town when he was injured and missed some time.
"I wasn't happy when I got injured because it was a big opportunity getting the call-up, but now that I'm back I'm feeling better every game," O'Brien said. "It's been a few weeks since I've been here so I'm just getting more comfortable every day. My linemates are playing well and that makes it easier for me to adjust."
O'Brien has been playing with Hunter Bishop and Sean Backman primarily and centered that line Sunday. With a thin lineup due to injuries and call-ups, Manchester had to use Nick Deslauriers, who had been converted to a winger this year, back at his old spot on defense.
That move coupled with in-game minor injuries suffered by Maxim Kitsyn and Robbie Czarnik on Sunday meant O'Brien saw a lot of ice time, working on power play and penalty kill units as well.
"That tells me that the coach trusts me out there and he's putting me in all situations, so that definitely gives me some confidence," O'Brien said. "Every player wants ice time when they're playing and the coaches put me in all situations ... power play, I've even seen some PK time. It's definitely nice to get that ice time."
Tanner in town: Forward Tanner Pearson was returned from the Los Angeles Kings last week and had to quickly adjust to the AHL schedule. After sitting out a few games, Pearson suddenly found himself playing three games in three days with Manchester.
But the pace of the schedule is nothing like the pace of the games in the NHL.
"The pace of things, even practice, everything is so much quicker and the game is so much quicker," Pearson said of his six-game NHL stint. "You're playing with the best players in the world so you've got to be on your toes at all times."
Pearson said he was disappointed to be sent back down, but enjoyed being with the big club.
"It was a good experience. Obviously, it's unfortunate to be sent back down. You want to stick there as long as possible," he said. "Guys are coming back from injuries and I've just got to come back here and play my game and hopefully get called back up soon."
Pearson did record his first NHL goal during the call-up. He said the Kings still have it and he believes they will do something special with it before giving it back. Pearson said it will likely end up in his father's office.
Schultz shores up D: Veteran defenseman Jeff Schultz also returned to Manchester after a call-up to the Kings. The big veteran did not add to his NHL total of 399 games played before being sent back down, but the Monarchs are glad to have him back.
"He'll help immensely. We had to play Nick Deslauriers back on D (Sunday) and he did a fine job for us, but we need his firepower up front," Morris said. "We're not a deep team, we have a lot of PTOs here and they've played really well for us, but at the same time, you can't teach (6-foot-7) and 240 pounds. (Schultz) is a stabilizing force for us."
Schultz is back already and practiced with the team on Tuesday. The Monarchs play at Worcester Friday, Adirondack Saturday and then close the weekend with a home game Sunday against Bridgeport at 3 p.m.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com.