IF YOU were to sum up the Manchester Monarchs’ season in one word it would have to be “consistent.”
With just four weekends of hockey remaining (including Friday when the Monarchs host Worcester at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena), Manchester remains tied with Texas atop the AHL standings with 92 points on a record of 42-17-8.
Despite constant roster flux that has seen its starting goaltender Martin Jones elevate to permanent backup in Los Angeles and the entire top line of Linden Vey, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson being split between Manchester and L.A. all season, the Monarchs have rolled along.
Manchester has not lost more than two games in a row all season and that has happened just three times. The low-points have not snowballed with this team despite being it being a very young roster.
“There’s some pretty good character in that room. There’s not many guys in there that you wouldn’t want to hang out with,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “They compete hard for one another. They like one another. They enjoy each other’s company and you can just feel it. It’s hard to describe. You can feel the camaraderie and hear what they say to one another when their poking fun or congratulating one another. There’s a warmth and sincerity there that has gotten us through a lot of close calls.”
Captain Andrew Campbell, one of the veterans on the team, agrees with Morris’ assessment that the team’s close bond pays off in the win column.
“It’s huge. There’s no outsiders in our room right now. We have a pretty tight-knit group and everyone enjoys coming to the rink every day and playing for each other and going to work with each other,” Campbell said. “When you show up on game night and you look around the room and you know everyone has your back and everyone else’s back, that’s a good feeling. That has a huge amount to do with the success we’ve had.”
Campbell added that the strong feelings of a close family atmosphere make it easier to dig deep in a game where the Monarchs might be behind or need to hold off a surging opponent.
“When you see guys out there sacrificing and you know they’re giving it their all, if you’re one of the guys out on the ice you know the other guys are counting on you and you don’t want to let them down,” Campbell said. “It forces you to take that extra stride, take that extra hit and do what it takes to get pucks in, get pucks out and secure the victory.”
According to rookie goalie J.F. Berube, who has emerged as a major part of the Monarchs’ success with Jones in L.A., having short-range goals that lead to long-range goals is a key to this season as well.
“We have an objective every game. Right now our objective is to get that first spot in the conference,” Berube said. “We’re working hard for that and we know for the last couple games there are teams that are playing for playoff spots so every game is going to be important. We want to make sure we come on strong for the playoffs.”
In addition to Berube, a large batch of rookies such as Nick Shore, Zach O’Brien, Scott Sabourin, Derek Forbort and Colin Miller have logged a lot of ice time and become valuable members of the team.
Campbell said he thinks the team has not reached its full potential, but all the pieces are place for a deep playoff run.
“We’re still so young. I don’t even know if this team fully realizes what we’re capable of doing,” Campbell said. “We saw it (Saturday in a 5-2 win) in Springfield. We methodically beat down a really, really good team. They’re one of the best teams in the league and they have a ton of veteran guys and shift by shift we kept wearing them down and we took it to them for pretty much 60 minutes.
“We’ve got to realize that we have something special here and if we prepare ourselves the proper way every night, we’re going to make something special happen.”
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.