MANCHESTER — His name will never make the score sheet, but team bus driver Tommy Dunbar Jr. should get a huge assist for helping the Monarchs complete a successful weekend.
“He got us all home safe during the snowstorm,” said Monarchs coach Mark Morris following Tanner Pearson’s first professional hat trick in Manchester’s 3-1 American Hockey League victory over Bridgeport Sunday at Verizon Wireless Arena before an announced attendance of 6,514.
The win completed a 3-0 weekend sweep of Worcester (3-1 away Friday), Adirondack (5-3 in Glens Falls, N.Y., on Saturday) and Bridgeport for the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference-leading Monarchs (19-5-1-4, 43 points).
“It was a taxing weekend and there wasn’t a whole lot left in the tank mentally, which was to be expected,” said Morris. “But to get the two points today under the circumstances was satisfying.”
Following the team’s win in Glen Falls, N.Y., Saturday against the Phantoms, the bus ride home took over six hours and the team finally arrived in Manchester at 4:38 a.m. Sunday. Morris said his staff and one trainer ended up sleeping at the arena. The players went home and most got about five hours of sleep.
“Usually it takes us three hours from Glen Falls, but the snowstorm made road conditions horrible,” said Morris. “Tommy Dunbar had great focus throughout the ride. Driving a bus for six hours in a snowstorm is no easy task, but he did a great job.”
Pearson admitted he had lady luck on his side Sunday. On his first goal just 2;29 into the contest, Pearson collected a rebound and circled behind the net. He backhanded a pass in front in hopes of getting it to a teammate. Instead, the puck deflected off Bridgeport goalie Anders Nilsson’s left leg pad and slid into the net.
Pearson made it 2-0 in the middle period on a one-handed tip-in off a slap shot from defenseman Vincent LoVerde, who notched two assists. Sean Wiles notched his first season goal two minutes into the last period, but Pearson attained Manchester’s first hat trick since Dec. 22, 2012 (Tyler Toffoli) with an empty-net goal with 17 seconds remaining. Pearson, now tied with Nick Deslauriers for the team-high in goals with 10, had previously not scored a goal since Nov. 1 when he had two against Providence.
Pearson was called up to Los Angeles shortly after and missed eight games with the Monarchs. He returned Dec. 6 and notched two assists in five games before breaking out Sunday.
“In this game, productivity is a fine line and until today’s game Tanner has had a ton of chances that were near misses,” said Morris. “Hopefully this starts a windfall of points for him.”
The game was marred at 4:18 of the second period when Manchester winger Sean Backman took an elbow to his head from Bridgeport defenseman Mike Cornell. Backman fell to the ice, bleeding from the forehead. Monarchs teammate Andy Andreoff quickly confronted Cornell and landed a few blows to Cornell’s face. Cornell was assessed a match penalty, which means he was done for the game and will await a possible suspension from the league for an illegal hit to the head.
“There’s no need for those type of hits,” said Morris. “I just don’t like seeing anyone get hurt by those kind of hits.”