Ian Clark's On Hockey: They're small but dangerous
Sometimes all a coach has to do is trust his instincts and sit back and watch the magic.
Such is the case with Manchester Monarchs head coach Mark Morris, who decided that the so-called guidelines for building a successful hockey line aren't something you have to live by.
You need a big guy in the middle to create traffic in front of the net. You need a playmaker to set up the finisher. You need a physical player to do the dirty work digging the puck out of the corners. You can't build a line of small guys, they'll get pushed around too much.
Try telling those things to wingers Brandon Kozun and Colton Yellow Horn and their center Jordan Weal.
"They're not blessed with a tremendous amount of size, but they are all guys that like to have the puck on their stick," Morris said. "They're learning to work together."
And how. The line tops out at 5-foot-10 (Weal), but Kozun (5-8) has picked up his physical game over his three pro seasons and Yellow Horn packs a lot of power onto his 5-9 frame with 190 pounds to throw around.
"You can say you need a big guy there or three small guys can't play together, but none of us are scared to go to the front of the net and the dirty areas," Kozun said. "If you're a small guy playing big, I don't think it really matters too much."
Kozun has had a strong season throughout, scoring 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points heading into Manchester's Saturday night game at St. John's. But the addition of rookie Yellow Horn last month served as a catalyst for Weal, who has been on fire as of late, upping his season totals to 8-13-21.
"When Yellow came up here, coach put us together and we're all players that think the game well and have a good work ethic. It's been a good combination so far and all we've got to do is keep working hard and keep the puck down low. That's where we're the most dangerous, down below the circles," Weal said. "I think all three of us are willing to go to the net. You see Kozun do it a lot, get his nose dirty and Yellow and myself have taken a page from that."
And Yellow Horn has been excellent so far, scoring a point a game with 3-6-9 in nine games as a Monarch.
"I think we're all pretty similar players, we all played in the Western League and I think they play similar hockey out there," Yellow Horn said. "We try to find each other, use quick passes, support each other and talk a lot out there. It helps make the game easier."
The line has taken some scoring pressure off the top line of Linden Vey, Tyler Toffoli an Tanner Pearson.
"The addition of Yellow Horn brings a finishing touch to that grouping. His presence has elevated the play of both those other guys because they complement each other," Morris said. "Being a left (handed) shot and having a skillful, good centerman who can win faceoffs and distribute the puck helps to tie that line together and give us another layer of depth as an offensive threat."
The trio has helped the Monarchs pull out of a tailspin and roll off a record of 3-0-1 heading into Saturday's game to make a playoff spot more of a possibility and less of a dream.
"It's going well right now," Kozun said. "Those guys are playing awesome. I'm getting lucky a little bit and they're helping me out a lot. I've buried a few as well and I'm playing well. It's all about hard work. All three of us work hard for each other on the ice and there is a lot of skill on our line. When you're working hard with that skill, things are going to go well."
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.