MANCHESTER -- A.J. Gale's road to the AHL has had more twists and turns than most, but he's here now and that's what counts.
Gale, who turns 27 later this month, has found a home with the Manchester Monarchs after stops all over the world.
"I'm really happy with the opportunity I've got here. It's a good bunch of guys and coach has shown some trust in me," Gale said. "It's been a huge learning curve for me and hopefully I can keep improving and getting better. There's a lot of things I still need to work on, (especially) in the defensive zone. I'm working on it every week and it's coming along. Hopefully I get it locked down for the rest of the way."
A skilled playmaker and finisher, Gale has eight goals and three assists in 25 games with the Monarchs, who hosted St. John's Saturday night and play at Portland today at 1 p.m. He scored a nice goal in Friday's 5-1 win over Binghamton, sniping from the slot with a laser.
"He's got a great release and we saw that (Friday). He's also very coachable and another guy that, all you have to do is tell him one time and he'll do his best to please you," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "He and Zach O'Brien have been great additions for us. They're high-end skill guys that can fit right in. They're wonderful guys to coach and good teammates."
Gale is from Nanaimo, British Columbia and played junior hockey for the Nanaimo Clippers in the British Columbia Hockey League from 2003 to 2006. He then went on to play two years at St. Cloud State (2006 to 2008) before a return to the Clippers.
The next stops on the winding road were St. Norbert College (2008-09 season), the Texas Brahmas (Central Hockey League, 2009-10) and Wichita Thunder (CHL, 2010-11). Gale then spent 2011-12 split between Copenhagen (Denmark) and Sweden, an experience he said was valuable for life, but not so much for hockey.
"In terms of my development I don't know if it helped me all that much, but it was a time in my life where I wasn't sure how long I was going to play hockey for and I really wanted to get that experience of Europe," Gale said. "Going over there I had a lot of fun and it really made me want to come back to North America and give it a shot. It was a huge life experience, from driving to the food to sleeping arrangements, it was pretty unique and a great time in my life."
It was back to the CHL in 2012-13 for Gale, who played with Denver and then got a small taste of the AHL life in four games with Lake Erie. Gale said that playing for all those different teams has helped him.
"You see different systems and you grow accustomed to them. Everything helps. The stint with Lake Erie helped me," he said. "You see the speed of the game from the double A to the triple A level and seeing that speed it opened my eyes and when I went back to the double A level, I felt a step ahead. Now there is no time for me to get complacent here with the speed. I need to keep trying to do things as quickly as I can."
As for the system in Manchester, passed down from the Los Angeles Kings, Gale said it's easy to trust in a system that produced a Stanley Cup championship two years ago.
"The system is set in stone here and it works, it's been proven," he said. "You just follow the system and it doesn't matter who you're playing with on a given night or shift or whatever. It's been a ton of fun learning it and spending time with these guys."
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(Lack of) Power Play: The Monarchs beat a very good Binghamton team 5-1 on Friday night, but it could have been a bigger beat-down if the power play units could get it together. Manchester went 0-8 on the man advantage, including more than a minute of five-on-three time.
The Monarchs remain on top of the AHL standings, but near the bottom when it comes to power play efficiency.
"There's only one puck and everybody wants one. That's the problem," Morris said. "I think our guys want to possess it and possess it and posses it and they haven't figured out that if you share it and move it and move your body that good things will happen. I saw moments when we moved it and had good success and good looks (at the net), but we're a stubborn bunch."
Morris said that once the players figure it out, the results could be scary.
"To be 27th in the league or whatever we are is not characteristic of things we're trying to do and the things that we preach. Hopefully we learn," Morris said. "If that light goes on, we've got a lot of talent out there but you've got to learn to play with one another."
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.