Monarchs get healthy, win sixth straight
MANCHESTER — The Manchester Monarchs saw some familiar faces come back from injury, and the team benefited from their return Wednesday.
Andrew Bodnarchuk and Zach O’Brien returned to the ice and the Monarchs lit up the scoreboard in a 5-1 win over Worcester in front of 8,296 fans on Education Day at Verizon Wireless Arena.
Brian O’Neill tallied two second-period goals, one shorthanded, in a little more than two minutes to give Manchester (11-4-0) its sixth straight victory. O’Neill also assisted on O’Brien’s first-period goal that gave Manchester a 1-0 lead.
“I had a couple good breaks,” O’Neill said. “It’s good to have some good luck going your way. We had the puck a lot so we were going to get a couple bounces here and there.”
Bodnarchuk made his season debut after recovering from a knee injury he suffered during parent club Los Angeles’ training camp. O’Brien played for the first time since injuring his neck and head in a 3-2 home loss to Lehigh Valley Nov. 7.
Bodnarchuk said it was a long road back mentally but he was encouraged by how good he felt in his first game back.
“I was a little nervous about it to tell the truth but I felt a lot better than what I expected,” the defenseman said. “I think I surprised myself a bit as far as how I felt. Definitely not stepping right in to where I felt I was last year but I really don’t think I’m too far off.”
Bodnarchuk posted an AHL-best plus-43 plus/minus rating and led Monarchs defensemen with 32 points in 73 games last year.
“Bods is a character guy,” said Monarchs coach Mike Stothers. “He’s a leader in our room. He’s a guy that works hard. His work ethic and his commitment is infectious and he’s been struggling to get back in.”
O’Brien made his presence felt in his first game in 12 days, scoring his first goal of the season on a low stick side shot at 10:47 in the opening period.
“O’Brien is very underrated. He does a lot of things well and it was nice to see him get on the score sheet tonight,” Stothers said.
Colin Miller and Kevin Gravel scored in the third period to cap the Monarchs’ scoring. Gravel scored with 25 seconds left, his first AHL goal.
Manchester outshot Worcester, 40-23. Jean-Francois Berube made 22 saves for the Monarchs. Sharks goaltender J.P. Anderson made 35 stops. Evan Trupp scored the lone goal for Worcester (8-6-1) at 9:31 in the second period.
Nick Shore, the CCM/AHL Player of the Week last week, finished with two assists. O’Neill and Shore have each recorded at least one point in each of the Monarchs’ six straight wins, the longest streak for any Manchester player this season.
O’Neill’s first tally was a shorthanded goal at 7:58 in the second. The 26-year-old tapped the puck past Anderson following a shot from the top left circle to put the Monarchs ahead 2-0. After Trupp’s goal for Worcester, a Shore slap shot bounced off O’Neill’s skate and into the Sharks’ net at 10:15.
Manchester’s six straight victories is the team’s longest streak since winning six in a row from April 7-20, 2013. The Monarchs have won eight of their last nine contests and scored four or more goals in five of their last six.
“The offense is a direct relation to our defense,” said Stothers. “We went from defense to offense and scored. I think you create opportunities by getting a good commitment by our guys in our zone.”