The Manchester Monarchs and Worcester Sharks are two teams that know each other well, they meet twelve times in a season. Last night they met for the final time in Manchester and have one more game to play in Worcester. Despite Manchester being atop their conference, they have never overlooked Worcester. The series has not been an easy on for the Monarchs. But with the chance to clinch a playoff berth, Manchester came out of the gates sprinting and the Sharks were never able to catch up.

Manchester had some new faces in the roster, partially to make up for the fact that a couple key defensemen, Vincent LoVerde and the recently acquired Brayden McNabb, were both out of the lineup with apparent injuries. This meant rookie Colin Miller got back into the game after being sidelined to make room for McNabb. Ben Danford, signed to an ATO after finishing his senior year at Canisius, got into his first game.

It did not take long for the Monarchs to set the tone in the first period. After an impressive save by Sharks goaltender Harri Sateri on Monarchs forward Sean Backman, the Monarchs did get onto the board 1:21 in. Former Shark James Livingston, who came to Manchester at the trade deadline, netted his first goal against his former team. Jeff Schultz took a shot from the blue line that Livingston got his stick on. Miller also had an assist on the goal.

“For me, it just feels good to chip in wherever I can. So I was pretty excited to get one against Worcester, against the former team. But it was just good to get us on the board early,” Livingston said.

That was nowhere near it, though. About halfway through the period, Brian O’Neill was coming out of the Monarchs penalty box after serving a penalty for boarding Sharks forward Dan DaSilva. It was the perfect set up for him to get behind the defense. He fed Hunter Bishop at the opposite corner of the goal and Bishop put it home. Following that goal, the Sharks killed off two consecutive penalties. But following those two penalties, the Monarchs got another even strength goal. Mid season addition to the Monarchs Steve Quailer took a shot from between the top of the face-off circles and beat Sateri.

Worcester would take one more penalty during the first period and that would prove dangerous for them. The Monarchs have struggled on the power play and it seemed like their struggle was continuing during the first part of this one as well. Almost exactly halfway through, though, the Monarchs took advantage. Sateri made an initial save and the rebound found itself on O’Neill’s stick. He had a wide open net and converted for his 22nd goal of the season.

“He’s been stellar, the puck seems to follow him around the rink. I think you have to give a lot of credit to (Jordan) Weal and Backman too,” Head Coach Mark Morris said of Brian O’Neill. “They’re dynamic and they seem to be getting better. They look for one another and O’Neill’s found his scoring touch that we all knew he had. It’s great to see.”

The teams came back for the second period with Manchester having the 4-0 lead and the ice seemed to tilt in the opposite direction. The Sharks were putting a lot more pressure on rookie Monarchs goalie JF Berube and he was coming up big. Dan DaSilva had a number of great passes in the middle frame but Berube stood tall and stopped all the flurry of shots by Worcester. In fact, Manchester did not get onto the shot board until the 6:40 into the period. Unfortunately for Worcester, the score remained 4-0 after the second period despite the Sharks outshooting the Monarchs 12-5.

In the final frame, the Sharks finally got onto the board with one of their own. With a lot of traffic in front of the net, the puck managed to find it’s way in. According to Berube, it might have hit off his back or off one of his defenders. But, in any case, it ended up in the net and Sharks rookie defenseman Dylan DeMelo earned credit for his second of the season.

But that would be it for the Sharks. On the next Manchester power play, O’Neill had his second of the night, both coming with the man advantage. There was a scramble in front of the net. Sharks defenseman Taylor Doherty went down in front of Sateri and it seemed like Sateri made the save. But the puck wound up on O’Neill’s stick and he rung it off the post and into the net to put Manchester up 5-1.

After seeming to take their foot off the gas a little in the second, Manchester came back hard in the third and looked like they were playing with the post season in mind. The win clinched them a spot in the playoffs and they were the first to clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference. O’Neill earned honors as first star of the game (2g, 1a), JF Berube earned second star (1 goal allowed, 27 saves), and Colin Miller earned third star (3a).

“It’s nice when you can have a good start like that. I thought we were quick with the pucks and really made the most of our chances. Second period, not so much; third period, we were back to playing hard again. That was good to see,” said Morris. “We played with a lot of conviction. We took advantage of a team that had to play some hockey earlier this week. We take them when we can get them especially when you’re coming down the stretch. You want to start to build toward putting complete games together.”

The Monarchs have now won 7 of their last 8 with that lone loss coming at the hands of the Sharks. Today, Manchester travels to Lewiston to take on the Portland Pirates. Although Manchester only has 8 games left this season, 4 of them are against the Pirates. It’s another intense division rivalry. On the line is the VIP Cup, a competition award to the team that comes away from their series victorious.

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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