Ian Clark's On Hockey: With some top guns and goalie Martin Jones in Los Angeles, Manchester faces some new challenges.
After starting off the season as one of the top teams in the AHL, the Manchester Monarchs now face their toughest test of the season, thanks to a modified roster. With Manchester's entire top line and starting goaltender all in Los Angeles with the Kings, now is the time for the Monarchs to answer the bell.
"You can dwell on what you don't have or you can look at it as an opportunity and I think that's the healthier way to look at things," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "I think it's an opportunity for some of our depth forwards to jump into new roles and relish the minutes that they're getting now to play in key situations."
Kings starting goalie Jonathan Quick is out for four to six weeks with a groin injury. Monarchs starter Martin Jones is now backing up Ben Scrivens in L.A. The top line of Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey and Tanner Pearson (called up last week) are also with L.A., thanks to other injuries.
That left Morris relying on rookie goalie J.F. Berube and with just nine forwards for games against Portland and Norfolk last weekend. Friday's game in Maine was not a good outing as the Pirates won, 4-1. But Manchester (11-3-3) responded at home on Saturday with a 3-2 win.
"When your backs are against the wall, you've got a choice. You can pack it in or hunker down and really focus on the job at hand," Morris said. "I thought our guys managed the puck smartly and made the most of the chances we got. A lot of guys were in new roles and they're playing like they have things to prove, which is a great attitude to have."
One of the players getting a chance amid the roster flux is Russian rookie Maxim Kitsyn. He had played just five games prior to the weekend. Kitsyn has no points yet and said he'd like to change that, but just getting game experience will help him most of all.
"I have the opportunity to step up. It could be better if I could score and get assists and help my team in the offensive zone," Kitsyn said. "I know tactics and systems better (playing in games). In practice, you learn how to play but in a game, things are coming quicker and you have no time to think so you do it automatically."
The Monarchs have added some other young players to the roster this week, signing forwards A.J. Gale, Cameron Burt and Mike Ullrich. Burt was in camp with the Monarchs this season.
Manchester will also need veterans like Brandon Kozun to lead the way. The team's leading scorer with four goals and 12 assists, Kozun had two goals in the win over Norfolk.
"Everyone is going to have to step up. It's not going to take one guy. We have a lot of new faces in here and some of the guys that have been around will try and show them the ropes a little bit and hopefully run with it," Kozun said. "It's part of the business. In the American league, guys go up and you have injuries. It'll definitely test us and hopefully make us better in the end."
And Berube will be in the spotlight as the top goalie in Manchester for the next month or so. Berube said he has been practicing all season with the mindset that he is going to play every game, so now that it really will be that way, he's ready.
"At the end of the day, that's what I want. I want to play as much as I can," Berube said. "It builds confidence and it's easier to be consistent when you know you're going to be in net for the weekend. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing and keep working hard."
The Monarchs have home games on Friday (Worcester, 7 p.m.) and Saturday (Providence, 7 p.m.) at Verizon Wireless Arena. The Monarchs will be holding their annual coat drive and fans are asked to bring gently used coats for donation.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org