The Manchester Monarchs are off to an impressive start. They have won 8 of their first 12 games and have taken at least a point in all but one game. There have been a lot of reasons for the success of the team, but their first line has been undeniably impressive. Tanner Pearson, Linden Vey, and Tyler Toffoli combined for 15 goals in the first 10 games.
Going into last weekend’s home and home series against the Providence Bruins, the Monarchs got word that they would be without two of the forwards on their top line. The LA Kings recalled Tyler Toffoli and Linden Vey. Toffoli is in his second season playing professional hockey. Last season, he had 12 NHL games between regular season and the playoffs and scored 4 goals. He also led the rookies in goals scored. Vey got his first NHL call-up and the chance to get into his first game.
With those two headed to LA, the Monarchs had to shuffle their lines and see if they could keep their streak rolling. The second line of Brandon Kozun, Jordan Weal, and defenseman-turned-forward Nick Deslauriers had been working well together. Head Coach Mark Morris did not want to interfere with that chemistry. Instead, he moved Andy Andreoff and rookie Nick Shore up to play with Pearson.
“I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I thought Tanner Pearson played extremely well and he elevated the play of his two linemates, Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff. I thought those guys were very strong. I think there’s competition there in house with Weal, Kozun, and Deslauriers as a line,” Head Coach Mark Morris said. “We’re getting good scoring. We also had contributions from the other lines. I thought that having Brian O’Neill step in and play center added another layer of depth with him, Backman, and Bishop. We were really able to roll all four lines. The strong goaltending of Martin Jones was a reason for our success too.”
When the Monarchs headed down to Providence for their first game of the weekend, they were not sure what to expect. But, they learned that the talent runs deep in Manchester. They scored 4 goals on 17 shots against Niklas Svedberg. They even added an empty net goal. Meanwhile, Martin Jones continued his impressive streak stopping 32 of 34 shots.
“I think we’re really deep so I think that’s one of our strengths. We have a lot of guys that can come in and fill those roles. I think that’s why we’ve had continued success is the depth of our team,” Jones said.
The teams headed back to Manchester to finish the home and home series. This time, the Bruins started rookie goalie Malcolm Subban but the result was similar. Manchester won 4-1, once again added an empty net goal. Martin Jones showed his incredible talent, stopping 30 of the 31 shots he faced.
“I had a good summer but I think a lot of personal success comes from team success,” Jones said. “When we’re doing all the right things as a team and playing with the right system, a lot of guys find their success from that.”
Over the weekend, Manchester put up 9 goals from 8 different goal scorers. Tanner Pearson, though missing his two line mates, put up 2 goals and 2 assists. He knows the importance of working hard, especially when the Kings have already made their first call up of the season.
“I think it was a little bit different. With Vey and Toffoli being called up, there’s a lot more opportunity for the guys. So far it’s working out and we’ll go from there,” Shore said. “Playing with those two guys, they make it really easy on you. The transition hasn’t been hard at all.”
This weekend, Manchester heads up to St. John’s to take on the IceCaps Friday and Saturday night. The two teams meet 10 times this year and have played twice already. St. John’s handed the Monarchs their first (and only so far) regulation loss before Manchester came back to win the second game.
The trip to St. John’s is the only serious road trip many teams in New England take and it is something most teams look forward to. They are also important games against division rivals. But, Coach Morris remembers the trips for another reason.
“It’s always an interesting trip. It’s a long haul to get there. Sometimes you’re lucky to get out of there to. Last year, I think, we were there for 6 days on our second trip up. We were fogged in and couldn’t leave. We’re hopeful that this trip is a little smoother. But they’re a very good team. As we found out, they’re a formidable opponent. They played well here and I suspect they’ll be a tough team to beat at home.”
Coach Morris is two games away from his 300th win as an AHL head coach. He has already surpassed that mark as a college head coach. When he reaches the milestone, he will be the first head coach to win 300 in both college and the AHL. That milestone could occur up in St. John’s with them playing twice, but it is not something Morris is thinking about.
“I think it just validates the fact that I’m long in the tooth. Good things happen when you stick around for a long time. It’s just one of those things that happen if you’re in the game long enough. I think having success at the American Hockey League level is something that is hard to do. I’m very proud to be part of this group here. I’ve enjoyed my success over the past 8 years.”
Although Morris doesn’t want to take credit, it is an impressive feat. Not taking credit seems to echo what everyone on the team thinks. When the team is doing well, individual players will be able to have more success. It is easier to take chances when you are winning games and feeling comfortable with your teammates.
Photo Credit: Manchester Monarchs