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February 20. 2014 11:06PM

Home style hockey for Monarchs

A potential Eastern Conference Final matchup?

There’s a lot of hockey to be played between now and then, but tonight’s 7 p.m. game between the Manchester Monarchs and Springfield Falcons at Verizon Wireless Arena is a key meeting between two of the top teams in the conference.

The Monarchs lead the Atlantic Division (and AHL) with 75 points at 34-14-7 and play three home games in the next three days. Springfield (32-15-5) leads the Northeast Division with 69 points.

“Springfield is a great team. Their depth and experience are big reasons why they have such a strong record and they’ll pose a great challenge for us,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “Hopefully, being on home ice is a help to us.”

Manchester will host Portland (19-22-9) Saturday at 7 p.m. and Worcester 23-22-4) Sunday at 3 p.m.

NHL veteran Colin Fraser, who has played in 33 games for the parent Los Angeles Kings this season, and has two assists, will be in the lineup for the Monarchs this weekend.

The Monarchs lost their top line of Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Linden Vey to call-up to Los Angeles Wednesday. The good news is that goaltender Martin Jones will be sticking around for a game or two before he heads back to join the Kings.

“My understanding is that we will have him for at least two of the three games,” Morris said.

With Jonathan Quick backstopping Team USA in the Olympics, it’s a safe bet that the Kings will want Jones sharp and game-ready to let Quick rest for a game or two on his return from Sochi.

With the entire top line of Pearson, Vey and Toffoli on the way out, young players who had been sitting on the bench will be itching to get back on the ice.

“Those guys (headed to L.A.) are getting a great opportunity and we’re excited for them,” Morris said. “But at the same time, it’s tough to replace them and they’ve been a big part of our offense for the past few games.”

The departure of the scoring trio opens up the ice for the return to action for players such as A.J. Gale, Hunter Bishop and Londonderry’s Ian O’Connor.

“When you lose a layer of depth, the question is, can the other players pick up the slack?” Morris said. “They’re fully capable of being solid contributors. These guys will be fresh.”

iclark@unionleader.com


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