MANCHESTER -- Manchester Monarchs rookie goalie Jean-Francois Berube sat in front of his locker, an ice bag secured to the back of his neck. It was a tough night at the office, but Berube was all smiles because it was also another win.
Berube made 31 saves and held the fort while the Monarchs came back from a 3-1 hole to earn a 4-3 overtime win over Springfield Friday night. Berube got a little banged up when he was run into by a Falcons player and hit his neck on the goalpost, but he was fine.
And Berube's play itself has been much more than fine.
Starting goalie Martin Jones was called up to Los Angeles in the middle of November and will be there for a while as Jonathan Quick mends from a groin injury and Ben Scrivens mans the L.A. cage.
Berube had started just one game and was 0-1-0 before being thrust into the starting spotlight. He has since started seven consecutive games, going 5-1-1 and helping keep the Monarchs on top of the Atlantic Division at 14-3-4 despite being without scoring threats Linden Vey, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson (all in L.A.).
"J.F. has given us a chance," Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said. "He's really come to play. He had to endure a lot of time watching games from the bench and he's responded. I give him a lot of credit for keeping his focus and keeping us on the winning track. He's been a big reason, since we've lost the four players to the Kings, that we're still able to hang in there and get points."
For Berube, patience has paid off. Prior to this season, Berube had been the starter for the Kings' ECHL affiliate in Ontario, Calif. Through emergency call-ups for injuries or other factors, Berube played in three games with Manchester in 2009-10 and then two more last season.
"It's not worth losing energy to wonder why you're not playing," Berube said. "I'm just working hard. Hockey is all about opportunities and injuries. When you have the chance to play, you have to prove what kind of player you are. Right now, I'm getting the chance. I've been waiting and when you wait, good things happen. It's all about patience and it's fun to have the ball right now."
Berube is a 6-foot-1, 22-year-old native of Repentigny, Quebec, and was the Kings' fourth-round pick in 2009 (95th overall). He has quickly earned the trust of the players in front of him.
"Any time you're on the ice and you have that trust that the goalie is going to make the first save and put the rebounds in the right position, that's huge," said Monarchs captain and defensive veteran Andrew Campbell. "It allows you to focus on your game and play the way you have to and not worry about doing other people's jobs. We talk about stepping up when people are out of the lineup and filling the void and taking on extra responsibility and he's done a tremendous job with that."
The Kings organization has a strong goaltending backbone thanks to goalie coach Bill Ranford and goalie development consultant Kim Dillabaugh. Whether in town to coach face to face or through video review, goalies in Manchester have constant feedback.
"I think we're really lucky here having Billy and Kim in the system. It's huge," Berube said. "They stay in touch and makes sure our game stays clean. Even though they are not here all the time, they watch the games on video and they can call us with things to work on for the upcoming week."
It's hard to argue with the results as Manchester has developed NHL goalies like Quick and Jonathan Bernier (now with Toronto) over the past few seasons, and Jones has established himself as a top-level AHL goalie who is on target to become an NHL regular.
Quick will most likely return to the Kings' net this month and that will send Jones back to Manchester. L.A. will want Jones, who has not seen the ice during his call-up, to play. But during the stretch run of the AHL season, Morris will be able to call on Berube with no hesitation.
And for now, the Manchester net is all Berube's.
"It couldn't be a better scenario for me right now. It's good to have the net (to myself)," Berube said. "The guys have been playing well and it makes my job so much easier. We're not giving too many chances each game and I have to make sure I stay sharp when those chances come. It's going pretty good right now."
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com.