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April 15. 2014 11:57PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: O’Neill’s injury leaves offensive void

MANCHESTER -- Saturday's  game between the Manchester Monarchs and Portland Pirates got ugly. The end result was some bad news for the Monarchs.

Manchester found out this week that leading goal scorer Brian O’Neill (26 goals, 21 assists) will be out six to eight weeks with a leg injury. The Monarchs close the regular season Friday at Providence at 7:05 p.m.

“It’s a sizable hole that leaves a void for us. As we come to realize and reckon with that situation, it presents opportunity (for others),” Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said. “I think if we take that approach it will serve us well and concentrate on what we do have as opposed to what we don’t have.”

With Manchester leading 3-0 in the third period, the Pirates appeared to become frustrated and extracurricular activities picked up. Pirate Brett Hextall jumped O’Neill and the two fought. During the brief bout, O’Neill went down to the ice awkwardly, injuring his leg. He left the ice immediately for the locker room.

“It’s maddening to see the ugly side of the game. That was totally unnecessary. It’s a sore spot. It was a needless altercation which resulted in a major injury and no suspension,” Morris said. “It’s something we’re going to have to find a way to overcome.”

The game spiralled from there as Manchester’s Andrew Bodnarchuk dropped Brendan Shinnimin in a fight that left Shinnimin injured on the ice and prompted Pirate Darian Dziurzynksi to challenge the Manchester bench.Scott Sabourin obliged Dziurzynski, earning a measure of revenge for an earlier fight between the pair where Dziurzysnki had landed several punches to Sabourin while Sabourin was on the ice.

In the end, Bodnarchuk, Sabourin and Dziurzynski (who fought three times in the game) all received game misconducts and Bodnarchuk (one game) and Dziurzynski (three games) were suspended.

“These types of situations are unnecessary in the game and need to be addressed because there’s no room in the game for the type of play that went on after the game was out of reach,” Morris said. “It’s our duty as coaches and players to make sure that things like that don’t persist.”

Manchester played the next day in Providence, winning 3-2. The altered lines (accounting for O’Neill’s absence) could be the status quo moving forward. Andy Andreoff took O’Neill’s place on the top line with Sean Backman and Jordan Weal.

“In our last game, Andreoff got moved up there and Nic Dowd moved from a center position on the fourth line to a right wing position with Linden Vey and Mike Mersch,” Morris said. “That was how we tried to plug it up last game and obviously it worked well for us. Time will tell as to how things progress from this point. In the near future that seems to be a logical way to go about it.”

While the O’Neill situation and the potential loss of Bodnarchuk (injury) for Friday is the bad news, the Monarchs do have some good roster news. Captain Andrew Campbell returned to the team from a stint in Los Angeles and NHL veteran Colin Fraser, who has been out a month with an injury, is expected back in action soon.

“Colin Fraser is back in town and we’re hopeful that he’s healthy enough to help us put back together a combination that was an outstanding checking line for us,” Morris said. “He and (Steve) Quailer and (James) Livingston were a real effective grouping. They showed well together.”

The AHL regular season concludes on Saturday and the Monarchs will know their first-round opponent. Manchester has sewn up the Eastern Conference and will have home ice through the conference finals.

Playoff schedules are being ironed out between the Monarchs and their potential opponents (Providence, Hershey, Norfolk and Albany). Early indications are that some of those opponents might have conflicts in their buildings, leading to the possibility for a first-round series to open with Manchester on the road.

Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is iclark@unionleader.com.


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