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April 29. 2014 10:12PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: Tough challenge lies ahead for Monarchs

IT has become exactly the scenario that the Manchester Monarchs wanted to avoid.

The top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Monarchs were stuck with only one option in the first round of the playoffs. The first two games against No. 8 Norfolk had to be played in Manchester and the next three in Virginia thanks to the Admirals' rink not being available to open the series.

Manchester won Game 1, but dropped Game 2 after leading 2-0. The Monarchs are now faced with the task of winning two of three games in a tough Norfolk building, the Scope Arena. Game 3 is tonight at 7:15. Game 4 will be Friday at 7:30. Game 5, if needed, will be Saturday at 7:15.

"We kind of drew the short straw with the scheduling," said Monarchs captain Andrew Campbell. "It wasn't our choice to start at home but it is what it is and we have to go down there and win two games. It's pretty simple. We played well on the road all year so it's time to step up."

Monarchs head coach Mark Morris knows his team is facing a stiff challenge and that Norfolk will be emboldened by splitting the two games in Manchester.

"It doesn't matter how old you are, this is pro hockey and nobody is going to feel sorry for you. You've got to strap them up and get ready to go," Morris said. "I'm sure they're going to play with a lot of motivation after stealing one up here. It's unfortunate the way that the draw went as far as playing at home. We didn't gain an advantage and we had the opportunity to do it here and we didn't get it done."

The Admirals were 20-13-5 at home this season. Manchester was 20-12-6 on the road but lost a weekend set of two games there at the end of February.

"It's a very tough building," Campbell said. "They have good fan support. They're a pretty rowdy crowd. They play really hard in their building so it will be a big challenge for us."

Manchester will be looking to put together a better 60-minute effort than Saturday's loss. After building a 2-0 lead, the Monarchs let Norfolk back into the game and a potential 2-0 series lead slipped away.

Morris is looking for more consistency up and down the lineup. Although they skated well and generated chances, the line of Linden Vey, Nic Dowd and Andy Andreoff left Morris wanting more.

"I just didn't see a whole lot of magic. They played hard but it just seemed like we were out of synch a little bit," Morris said. "Having more depth is going to be key. When the (Jordan) Weal line is going good and the (Nick) Shore line is going good we've got to get Veysie's line contributing on a regular basis so we hem teams in for long periods of time."

Manchester has a young roster and many players are in their first pro playoff series. For the veterans, showing them composure is important.

"We have a young team so the more composed our leadership group can stay the better off it will be for the younger players," Campbell said. "It's stressful times in the playoffs. There's big shifts and key moments and the more even-keeled you stay, the better off everyone will be."

Despite being No. 1 vs. No. 8, the Manchester/Norfolk series is far from lopsided. The Admirals finished the regular season with 40 wins, just eight fewer than the Monarchs. The Eastern Conference bracket is a dogfight and won't get any easier in round two.

In the Western Conference, three of four series stand at 2-0. In the East, three series are tied 1-1 and the other had Springfield up 2-1 on Providence heading into Tuesday night's Game 4, with two of the games going to overtime.

As the playoffs move along, the Eastern representative will have arguably been through a tougher gauntlet. Will that Eastern champion have anything left in the tank or will it be so battle-tested that the Western winner won't stand a chance? It all goes back to the bottom line. Winning a Calder Cup is not easy and if you want it, you have to fight through the adversity.

"Any team that wins a championship, the NHL, American League, Canadian junior, whatever league you're in, you go through adversity along the way," Campbell said. "It's the old saying what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. This is a huge test and it's our first stage of adversity."

______

KITSYN, FRASER RETURN: The Monarchs recalled forward Maxim Kitsyn from Ontario (Calif.) of the ECHL. Kitsyn played in 20 games with Manchester early this season, scoring three goals and one assist. He had 14 goals and 16 assists in 33 games with Ontario.

Also, the Kings assigned forward Colin Fraser to the Monarchs. He played in 33 regular-season games with the Kings this season.

Manchester also signed defenseman Kurtis MacDermid to a tryout. He played with Owen Sound and Erie of the OHL this season, registering seven goals, 12 assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-22.

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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