Ian Clark's On Hockey: Monarchs find a home away from home
ALL that hard work and home ice advantage is negated by a marching band.
The Manchester Monarchs won the Eastern Conference crown and earned home ice advantage.
But when the first round of the AHL playoffs begins Friday night at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena, the Monarchs will open a series in which they would play only two games of a potential five-game series at home.
That's because the Monarchs' opponent, eighth-seeded Norfolk, has the Virginia International Tattoo (a gathering of military marching bands) in its arena this weekend. With Norfolk's rink in use and the two-games in building A/three games in building B first-round format, Manchester had no choice but to play games 1 and 2 in Manchester Friday and Saturday.
Games 3 and (if needed) 4 and 5 shift to Norfolk next Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
"It's out of our control, so there's no sense worrying about it. In the end, you've got to find a way to win. If we take care of business at home then it means we have to win one on the road," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "I think the best approach is to take it shift by shift and one game at a time just as we've done the entire season. Complaining does nothing for us. We've faced bigger adversity throughout the year than that."
Teams within 300 miles of one another are allowed to alternate home games in a two-two-one format or other agreeable arrangement. But teams further afield have to use the two-three setup.
The higher seed gets to choose which games are where and most teams opt to play two on the road to open a series, the reasoning being that even if you drop the first two, the rest of the series is in your building. Manchester was not afforded that decision, but the Monarchs are looking on the bright side of playing at home.
"Starting off at home is always a good thing and we get the crowd behind us and get the fans going early," said veteran defenseman Jeff Schultz. "Hopefully things go our way, but if not then we'll take it down to Norfolk and do our best."
The Monarchs (48-19-9) lost both regular-season games in Norfolk (40-26-10) this season while the Admirals lost both in Manchester. The Monarchs do come in with more rest, however, having played just three games over the past two weekends. In that same span, Norfolk played six games.
"The good part is that we got the bulk of our schedule taken care of in the last few weeks so we've played less hockey and should have more energy," Morris said.
Morris said that he liked his team's approach to practice this week and noted that for many players, this will be their first taste of professional playoff hockey.
"They're practicing hard and seem focused. This is a proving ground for a lot of players," Morris said. "When you're on the biggest stage you want to be able to prove that you're ready for the next level and this is when things get fast and furious. If you can thrive in that environment it's a pretty good indication that there's still room for growth in your game and you haven't ceilinged out yet."
FRASER ON THE WAY UP: Veteran Colin Fraser, who had recently returned to action with the Monarchs after missing a month with an injury, was called up to the Kings Tuesday.
Entering Game 3 Tuesday night, Los Angeles trailed San Jose 2-0 in their best-of-seven series. If the Kings are eliminated (in this round or whenever) then Fraser, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson would be the only players eligible to return to Manchester.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.