Allen Lessels' On Hockey: Monarchs fight for final spot
The Manchester Monarchs take the ice for their last regular season home game of the year this afternoon at 3 against Worcester.
They hope it's not their last game at the Verizon Wireless Arena until October.
The push to the playoffs for coach Mark Morris and his team continues in today's shirt-off-their-back Fan Appreciation contest.
"We definitely don't want to miss the playoffs,'' said team president Darren Abbott on Saturday. "We're battling and competing. Mark is doing a heck of a job trying to squeeze the team into the playoffs."
The Monarchs have missed the playoffs only once in their first 11 seasons.
They are on the outside looking in going into this afternoon's game and they needed to make up some ground with three home games this weekend.
They got the weekend off on the right foot with a 3-1 win against Connecticut on Friday night. The Whale are one of the teams Manchester is chasing for a playoff spot.
Hershey is another. The Monarchs defeated Hershey 4-3 on Saturday night at the Verizon. Going into Saturday night's game, the Monarchs trailed Hershey by two points in the standings and were four behind Norfolk, which held down the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Getting points this weekend was especially important given that the Monarchs end the season with three road games next weekend: they are at Binghamton on Friday, at Wilkes-Barre Scranton on Saturday night and at Hershey on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Ideally, a late-season run earns another turn in the playoffs and there are more games to be played at the Verizon.
"It's been an interesting year with the NHL lockout and the amount of callups we've had," Abbott said. "I believe there are nine players in the National Hockey League right now that started the season on our roster. That's what we're here for, so that's a good thing."
It can also make for some challenges along the way in the AHL.
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The Monarchs were a tick behind last year's season attendance average as of Saturday afternoon, but Abbott figured with a good crowd expected for the game against Hershey and then again this afternoon, the numbers should come in about the same as last year.
The Monarchs were averaging 5,582 fans a game, which was 13th in the 30-team league and just under the league average of 5,647.
Last year, the Monarchs averaged 5,701 a game, their best total since they pulled in 5,882 for the 2008-09 season.
Today's game is all about thanking the fans.
"We have giveaways throughout the game," said Kim Mueller, the team's vice president of public affairs. "Our sponsors donate things and we'll be handing out stuff left and right."