TO BORROW an old phrase, the Manchester Monarchs are hoping to make hay while the sun shines.
Right now the sun is shining because the two-week Olympic break for the NHL means that several key players from the Los Angeles Kings are playing in Manchester and the Monarchs would love to make some hay in the standings.
Goaltender Martin Jones and forwards Tyler Toffoli and Colin Fraser were all sent to Manchester last week and will have a chance to play in as many as six games before the NHL resumes play on Feb. 25.
And while the influx of talent is nice, it's not great news for some players on the Manchester roster who will have to sit out.
"We've got lines figured out. The hardest part is for the guys that are the odd men out," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "Everybody has played well enough to be in the lineup, but we're also aware that there is the possibility of pending movements and guys returning to the NHL after the Olympic break. So trying to get everybody enough ice (time) and keep them in the fold is the biggest challenge right now."
Morris said the Kings did not offer any specific guidelines for how much to play certain individuals, but their presence in Manchester at all means they need to be seeing the ice a lot.
"If somebody is sent down, it's our call most nights," Morris said. "But if a guy is getting sent back to Manchester it's a pretty good indication (L.A.) would like to see him getting quality ice time so they are ready to make a return."
While Jones is the biggest piece to have back, his presence should serve double duty. Not only will Jones improve Manchester's chances of winning considering the high level he has played at all year, but it also means J.F. Berube will get some time to rest.
That will be a major factor coming down the home stretch for the playoffs. The Monarchs will be leaning on Berube heavily heading into the postseason. With the players away until Friday for the AHL all-star break, Morris said he hoped Berube was working hard to stay prepared.
"I'm hopeful that he uses his time away wisely. We're going to need him," Morris said. "I'm sure that (goalie gurus) Kim Dillabaugh and Bill Ranford will be doing what they can do when they have an opportunity to work with him to get him ready. He's been a big part of our success this year and having him fresh is important."
Toffoli has been up and down all season, so the Monarchs know what they are getting with the young scoring star. But the veteran Fraser offers a rare opportunity for Manchester to have a seasoned pro in the mix, joining defenseman Jeff Schultz as one of only two Monarchs players with significant NHL experience.
The 29-year-old Fraser has played 358 NHL games, including 33 with L.A. this season.
"He'll be a good example for our young pros to learn from. His work habits and his track record are good indicators that he's a dedicated individual," Morris said. "When you're not a top line player, you undoubtedly have to be resourceful and make sure you do everything you can to continue to be part of a successful venture. He's a prime example of a (former Monarchs captain) Marc-Andre Cliche type that we dearly miss. While he's with us, we're hopeful that others can learn from his experiences and his work habits."
By AHL rule during the all-star break, the Monarchs (31-14-7) are not able to practice until the game-day morning skate on Friday. That night, Manchester hosts Worcester at Verizon Wireless Arena at 7 p.m. The Monarchs then visit Hartford Saturday and close the weekend at home Sunday at 3 p.m. against St. John's.
.ALL-STAR VIEWING: You can watch the AHL all-star game live on NESN-Plus tonight at 6:30 on tape delay on NHL Network tonight at 10 and Sunday at 10 p.m. There are no Monarchs in the game, which features an AHL roster taking on Farjestad BK of the Swedish Elite League. Linden Vey and Jones were supposed to represent Manchester, but Jones' call-up to L.A. and Vey's commitment to a personal matter meant they needed to be replaced even though both are currently in the AHL.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com.