TOP goaltender gone. Top scoring line scattered. A key playmaker traded away. The standard ration of injuries.
All of those things (and more) have been endured by the Manchester Monarchs this season. Yet despite all of those hurdles, the team finds itself leading the AHL in points with 63 and a record of 28-12-7.
Has head coach Mark Morris’ seventh year in Manchester been the toughest? “It might be, but I feel more comfortable than ever in regard to the fact that I know the drill,” Morris said. “There’s a level of uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with the job, but I’m more understanding and accepting of the challenges now than when I first got here. I didn’t quite understand the whole concept of trying to balance things.”
Morris said one of the biggest lessons he has learned is patience for the entire process of developing players. That patience was rewarded when more than a dozen players he had coached in Manchester won the Stanley Cup with the parent club Los Angeles Kings two years ago.
“The competitor in me still wants to win every shift, every game, every puck battle. I don’t think that will ever change,” Morris said. “But there’s also a more mature, more understanding side of me that understands it having seen the process unfold into a Stanley Cup.”
One of the keys for Morris is trusting his support staff (such as assistant coach Freddy Meyer of Sanbornville) and veteran players to help him with the workload. For some coaches, letting any amount of responsibility fall to someone else can be a challenge.
“It takes time to figure things out as a coach. Like any management position, you learn to empower people and get them invested in their particular role on the team,” Morris said. “The thing I’ve tried to impart in our guys is to have a vested interest and take responsibility. When there is that group effort, it’s a lot more fun for everybody. You can start to see the fabric of your team take shape and the leaders become more comfortable in their roles and they have their lieutenants and if you have guys that step out of line, they can handle it. They move it off your plate so the coaches don’t always have to be the ones who are correcting or have to be the voice in the room.”
The Monarchs, who host Binghamton and St. John’s Friday and Saturday at Verizon Wireless Arena (7 p.m. on both nights) have had to deal with even more roster reconfiguration than ever this season.
Top goaltender Martin Jones left in mid-November for a call-up to Los Angeles that went so well he forced the Kings to trade Jonathan Quick’s backup, Ben Scrivens. Jones came back to Manchester for two games (both wins) and is now the backup in L.A. to stay.
The top scoring line of Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey and Tanner Pearson have each been shuttled to and from L.A. multiple times this year. Toffoli was here two weeks ago while the others were out west. Last week, they changed places yet again.
Also last week, second-leading scorer and fourth-year pro Brandon Kozun was traded to Toronto. And the usual injuries that any team will sustain have taken their toll in Manchester as well.
But Morris and his staff continue to find ways to get the team to regroup and respond. After last week’s major roster shuffle, Manchester went out and took five out of six possible points in three games over the weekend.
“When you lose your best players and you practice with them all week long and then at the drop of a hat, you’ve got to reconfigure every aspect of your game plan that you’ve prepared for the week, you learn to adjust,” Morris said. “You learn to understand that sometimes you have to take it on the chin. When you’re a competitive person, you want everything to be right and that’s not always the case. There’s a level of uncertainty and you’ve got to learn to roll with the punches.”
And Morris and the Monarchs have rolled with them right into first place.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.