The Manchester Monarchs might not have been the most talked team during the majority of last season, but they certainly made sure they were on everyone’s radar to end the season. On April 6th, there was barely a 20% chance that they would make the playoffs. After that loss, they went on to win 6 straight and secure the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Even though they did not make it out of the first round, they put up an impressive fight against the Springfield Falcons.

During the past couple of seasons, the Monarchs have managed to get a playoff spot at the last minute. They have loved getting into the playoffs but are looking to start off hot and keep going.

“We finished strong to make the playoffs at the last minute. It’s one of those things where everything starts clicking,” Robbie Czarnik said of their late season success. “Everyone starts to realize that the season is about to be over. You want to be that team in the playoffs.”

With a good group of core players coming back this season, the Monarchs are expecting a strong showing from their team this season as well. Leading the returning players is goaltender Martin Jones who will be with the team for his fourth season.

“We have high expectations this year for sure. We have a really young team but we have a lot of skill,” Jones said. “We have a lot of speed. We definitely don’t want to leave it to the last month of the season like last year.”

Last season with the Monarchs, Jones was second in the league in minutes played and posted an impressive .919 save percentage. He will look to keep improving his play this season as he tries to get into that first NHL game. The key is to always try to improve.

“I want to make sure I clean up all the little bits and have great attention to detail this year to be an NHL goaltender some day,” Jones said.

Looking at the roster, the team thinks they show a lot of promise. Not  only do they want to make the playoffs again, but they want to be a team competing throughout the season. They might have the right recipe to do that this season.

“We have an exciting team and I think we could score a lot of goals. We’ll be looking to string together a lot of wins,” returning leader Andrew Campbell said.

“There are a lot of guys coming back that were a huge part of the team last year that helped us do so well,” said Robbie Czarnik.” There are a lot of new guys coming in that are going to be good.”

Defenseman Andrew Campbell, who has been an assistant captain for the last three seasons in Manchester, and center Robbie Czarnik are two of the returning faces this season. Also joining them from last season’s Monarchs team are the top five scoring leaders: forwards Linden Vey, Brandon Kozun, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Jordan Weal. Toffoli, Pearson, and Weal are all returning for their sophomore seasons and looking to improve on last year’s success.

“It’s going to be a lot different and I think I’ll have more time with the puck. I more know what to expect,” Pearson said on his second pro season. “The line we had last year with (Tyler Toffoli) and I produced pretty well. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of pairings again. We have to be ready for that.”

Other players creating the core group of returning players are defensemen Nick Deslauriers, Andrew Bodnarchuk, and Vincent LoVerde and forwards Brian O’Neill, Hunter Bishop, and Andy Andreoff. Andreoff, also starting his sophomore season, looks to build off of the style of play he established last year.

“I was trying to do a little bit of everything last year, kind of like (Rich) Clune. When he was leaving, I tried to kind of take over his spot,” Andreoff said. “I was trying to chip in everywhere: scoring, hitting, fighting. Hopefully I’ll keep that up this year.”

The familiar faces are going to be joined by some exciting new talent. Some new players, like Scott Sabourin, Derek Forbort, and Jean-Francois Berube, got into a few games at the end of last season and others will be looking to get into their first game when Manchester opens their season on Saturday, October 5th.

“It definitely helped to get into games last season. It was a good taste of the pro game to get those games under my belt. It helped a lot with knowing what to expect,” Forbort said.

“I think I’m more excited than anything. I’m looking forward to getting out there and starting the season,” new addition Colin Miller said about getting the season started.

The new players are lucky to have the returning Monarchs to help them as they adjust to the AHL. But there are still things they will have to learn on their own.

“I think the speed is the biggest adjustment. It’s a lot quicker and the players are a lot better. They’re going to make you pay if you make a mistake. So I think I just have to play my game and limit the turnovers,” Miller said.

“I think it’s a really different lifestyle. Being in college, you have to worry about your school and keeping up with that stuff,” newcomer Nick Shore said. “From that standpoint it’s a lot different. I’m looking forward to the challenge and I’ll see how it goes.”

With this mix of returning players and new talent, Manchester will definitely be a team to watch. They all seem confident in their team and in each other. They kick off their season on the road down in Springfield on Saturday, October 5th. They will open at home with back to back games on Saturday October 19th and Sunday, October 20th hosting the Providence Bruins and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins respectively.

A New England girl, born and raised, Jessica Higham has grown up loving few things more than hockey. Although she has never considered herself to be a good skater, she fell in love with hockey back when boys still had cooties and that love has only grown since. She genuinely wishes she had been alive to enjoy ‘Miracle on Ice’ and considers it to be one of the greatest moments in US history. Nothing compares to the feeling of September coming and signaling the start of a new season, complete with a whole new set of ups and downs. After having been an avid reader and occasional writer, Jessica wanted to try putting the two loves together and writing about hockey. Aside from hockey, Jessica also loves music, going to concerts, animals, and walking on the beach. Email: jessica@thepinkpuck.com @JessicaHigham

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