MANCHESTER -- "Trial by fire."
That's how Manchester Monarchs head coach Mark Morris described the professional debuts for a trio of newly signed players on Friday night in a 2-0 loss to Hartford. St. Cloud State products Nic Dowd (a Hobey Baker Award finalist) and Kevin Gravel joined Wisconsin's Michael Mersch to play their first AHL games together.
With Linden Vey and Andrew Campbell called up to Los Angeles and injuries to Vinny LoVerde and Colin Fraser, the college kids have little time for adjustment. Dowd and Gravel came in so late they didn't get to practice with the team before Friday's game and Mersch got in one practice on Thursday.
"I was encouraged. There's some good qualities there. But it is a fast pace and it's going to take an adjustment period I would think," Morris said. "For the first game, I thought they did fine."
Dowd saw the most ice time, playing on the power play and penalty kill units.
"I was fortunate enough that (coach) threw me right in there in the fire and that's what every player wants, to get an opportunity on the power play and a little on the penalty kill," Dowd said. "I'm still figuring stuff out. I got in (Thursday) night and didn't have a practice so the systems are a little new. But I'm just trying to be a hockey player."
Dowd said he didn't feel fatigued with his late arrival Thursday night, but Morris said he didn't think Dowd showed much energy. Still, the coach knows Dowd is a player to watch going forward.
"Dowd is still finding his way out there. He's a special player for sure. Maybe the travel was a little too much, I don't know. He didn't have too much jump in his step (Friday)," Morris said. "He's a great kid and I talked to (St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko) and he said 'you're going to come to appreciate this guy.'?"
On defense, Gravel seemed to fit in pretty well. He took a penalty, but otherwise seemed comfortable paired with veteran Andrew Bodnarchuk.
"As expected there were some ups and some downs," Gravel said. "That comes with adjusting to a new team and a new overall style of play. The pro style is a little different than the college style and you've got to get adjusted to the pace. There are some things that I would replay differently in my head, but for a first game I'll take it."
Morris liked what he saw from Gravel.
"I thought Gravel did a nice job," Morris said. "He seemed to put the puck in the right places and make some clever plays. He went back after pucks and made a good first pass."
The adjustment for Dowd and Gravel has been eased by their friendship, which goes back four years to their arrival at St. Cloud as freshmen together. They knew Mersch as well.
"Gravs was obviously one of my best friends and roommate and he came in with me as a freshman. Same with Merschy. We've known him for a couple years," Dowd said. "It's nice to have those guys, but the team welcomed us really well."
Mersch had a strong debut on Friday, finishing with four shots on goal and playing with some fire on the forecheck. Mersch and Dowd played on a line together with another young player, Steve Quailer.
"It's a start. You're learning new systems and playing with new guys, a new coach and new team. The advice they gave me was to go out there and just play. Sometimes I found myself thinking a little bit, but that's a process and it's a start," Mersch said. "Me and Nic talked to each other on the bench and were communicating, which is always a good thing. It helps the relationship grow and hopefully we can keep moving forward here."
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Campbell's time?: Campbell's call-up to Los Angeles could finally mean the veteran defenseman gets into his first NHL action. With Drew Doughty injured, Campbell was summoned. After more than 400 AHL games, Saturday in Vancouver was a chance for Campbell to make his NHL debut.
The Monarchs are not expected to be without Campbell for too long. Doughty remained on the road with the Kings, a strong indication that he is only out for the short term.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com.