(Photo: Manchester Monarchs)
The Manchester Monarchs came into Friday night with the most points and best winning percentage in the AHL. It has been a season where they started out hot and kept rolling, despite a number of roster changes they’ve had to deal with over the season. Bridgeport, conversely, has been a team struggling throughout the season and are below .500 hockey right now. This was the final meeting of 6 between the two teams this season. The Monarchs would come away from the series 5-1. This also meant the last time former Monarch Justin Johnson would visit this season.
Although the Monarchs have struggled on the power play this season, tonight was not a night where that struggle continued. Bridgeport came out playing an undisciplined game and Manchester capitalized on that. They switched up the lines for the man advantage and it seemed to work. Just over 2 minutes into the game, the Monarchs executed a couple clean passes that ended up putting the puck on the stick of Zach O’Brien. He had a clear shot and beat Bridgeport goaltender Kenny Reiter easily.
The tone of the game from the beginning seemed to be aggressive with a lot of pushing and shoving both before and after whistles. It ended up hurting Bridgeport, though. They took four minor penalties in the first period alone. The fourth ended up being another key time for the Monarchs. With traffic in front of the net, Monarchs forward Jordan Weal has his back to Kenny Reiter, he fed the puck between his legs and managed to find the stick of Brian O’Neill, who puck it home for his first of the game.
The teams went to the first intermission with Manchester leading 2-0, but the Monarchs were nowhere near done. The second showed a greater pressure by Bridgeport through the first half of the period. Just past the fifteen minute mark, the duo of Weal and O’Neill struck again. Weal made a beautiful pass from the face-off circle across the crease. Reiter misread the play and it left O’Neill with a wide open net on the other side.
Not to be outdone, O’Brien added his second of the night two minutes later. He put pressure on a Bridgeport defenseman trying to keep the puck in their offensive zone and it paid off. The puck jumped over the defenseman’s stick and O’Brien had the breakaway. In alone on Reiter, he managed to just slip it by as the puck trickled over the goal line.
The Monarchs were not letting up and sitting on their lead, as they went to the second intermission leading 4-0. When the teams came back out for the final period, the Monarchs were still flying. Although the shots were more even in the final period, it was too little, too late. About five minutes into that final period, it seemed like Monarchs defensemen Andrew Bodnarchuk had registered a goal of his own. The took a laser of a shot that hit the inside of the crossbar and went in. This was the third power play goal of the game.
A couple minutes later, the announcement came that O’Neill had actually tipped the Bodnarchuk shot and was getting credit for the goal and the hat trick. It was an anti-climatic moment and nobody tossed their hats. But, that hardly matters to the forward who has stunned with his second hat trick in just four games.
The final frame was when Monarchs goaltender JF Berube had to do the most work. Although it might not appear he made a lot of saves, he made some impressive ones to preserve his shutout. He also got a lot of help from the team in front of him. Rookie Nick Shore added his 14th of the season at 14:08 and it seemed to be the final straw for the Sound Tigers.
Tensions finally boiled over just 13 seconds after the Monarchs took the 6-0 lead. Monarchs rookie Scott Sabourin took on Sound Tigers rookie Andrey Pedan. Sabourin has been known to drop the gloves this season and seemed to be the winner of this fight once again. He landed more of the punches and took Pedan to the ice.
Finally, with just about 2 minutes left, Monarchs forward Hunter Bishop made the score 7-0. He and O’Brien had an odd man rush where O’Brien passed off to Bishop for an easy score.
Brian O’Neill (3g), Zach O’Brien (2g, 2a), Linden Vey (2a), Hunter Bishop (1g, 1a), and Jordan Weal (2a) all finished with multi-point games. JF Berube made 23 saves for the shutout, his second of the season. The Monarchs get an unusual Saturday night off from a game before heading down to Worcester to take on the Sharks tomorrow afternoon. It will be the first time newly acquired forward James Livingston will face-off against his former team.