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September 24. 2013 9:53PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: Monarchs’ pieces coming together

FOR the Manchester Monarchs coaching staff, it’s time to fit the puzzle pieces together and see what the picture looks like.

The Monarchs open training camp at St. Anselm College this morning. Most of the players have been in Los Angeles working with the parent club Kings for the past few weeks. But now, Monarchs head coach Mark Morris has a better idea of the players he’s working with.

“It is exciting,” Morris said. “We’re anxious to see what we’ve got and how we can generate some chemistry and get some combinations together and see how much progress we’ve made.”

Los Angeles still has 34 players in camp, a number that will be trimmed over the next week. Many of those players will end up in Manchester, which makes for a balancing act with Morris and his staff. He tries to evaluate young players while also attempting to figure out line combinations.

“You have to be very flexible,” Morris said. “As guys filter back down this way from the Kings we’ve got to be sensitive to making certain that guys are getting opportunities that they’ve earned and at the same time, trying to anticipate where you’re going to have a chance to slide people in.”

One area Morris won’t have to be concerned about is goaltending. Martin Jones is the clear No. 1 and J.F. Berube is expected to serve as backup. Another netminder, Mathias Neiderberger, is a German import who is in camp and could push Berube.

“We’ve been blessed with great goaltending the entire time I’ve been here and Martin Jones obviously has a bright future ahead of him,” Morris said. “There’s no question that they want to see him in the net as opposed to sitting in the wings (in L.A.) waiting for his opportunity. This will be a good opportunity for him to take hold of the position and pick up where he left off last year.”

One aspect Morris will be looking for on the team is leadership. Two-year captain Marc-Andre Cliche was claimed off waivers by Colorado and his departure leaves a void.

“I’m curious to see who emerges as a leader type to replace Marc. We’ve had excellent support people around him over time,” Morris said. “This is a chance for us as a coaching staff to evaluate which guys are going to set the example that Marc-Andre Cliche brought to our organization. He learned from Drew Bagnall, who might be one of the better captains you’d want to have. He set the bar pretty high.”

And while Morris is sad to see Cliche leave, he knows it is a great chance for the veteran to finally carve out an NHL niche for himself.

“His character and contributions are a tough thing to replace,” Morris said. “We’re extremely excited for Marc. He’s been looking for this opportunity to show what he can do at the NHL level. The numbers in L.A. were just too deep. To see him get an opportunity is a welcome thing. How can you not be happy for him? He’s paid his dues.”

The Monarchs will play exhibition games against Portland in Saco, Maine, Saturday and at St. Anselm Sunday at 3 p.m. The regular season opens Oct. 5 at Springfield.

iclark@unionleader.com


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