(Photo: discoverlehighvalley.com)

The Manchester Monarchs hosted the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for the seventh game of their eight game homestand. This is one of only two meetings between the teams this season. The Phantoms are in their first season in the AHL. Last season, the franchise was in Adirondack. It was also the 4th annual Canadian Heritage night in Manchester with Canadian music and food along with bilingual announcements.

Manchester wasted no time in testing Phantoms goaltender Rob Zepp with two shots in the first 45 seconds. Tensions were also running high. The Phantoms defense seemed to do a good job at limiting the breakaways despite the difference in shots. There was a scary moment just under 8 minutes into the first period, Nick Cousins delivered a dangerous hit on Monarchs forward Zach O’Brien. The trainer was called out and O’Brien took a long time to get up. The trainer helped him off holding a towel to O’Brien’s face and O’Brien would not return. The Monarchs, who had gone with 7 defensemen and 11 forwards were now down another forward. Cousins ended up with a 5 minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. The Phantoms managed to kill off the penalty despite some good chances by the Monarchs.

“That’s a chance you always take when you play 7 defensemen instead of 6. But we had been doing well with that line-up and we didn’t want to change anything,” Head Coach Mike Stothers said. “O’Brien has been a great asset and we probably could have used him on the power play. I don’t think he’ll be ready to go for our next game but we hope he’s back soon.”

Despite putting up 15 shots in the first period, the Monarchs were kept off the board and the teams went to their respective locker rooms scoreless after the first.

Manchester got another power play chance at 3:30 into the second and this time they were able to get onto the board. Jamie McBain sent the puck over to Colin Miller at the top of the face-off circle and Miller was able to one-time it past Zepp. Sean Backman had the secondary assist. Shortly after the goal, the Monarchs head to the penalty kill themselves but Manchester is able to kill it off thanks to Berube standing tall.

Tensions finally reached the boiling point as rookie Monarchs forward Justin Auger takes on Phantoms defenseman Oliver Lauridsen. After a flurry of punches, both went down in what seemed to be a relatively even fight. Manchester seeming to take their foot of the pedal a little, being held without a shot for about 5 minutes, and it showed.

“I just wanted to get the boys going,” Auger said of his fight. “I’m a big guy, I play a physical game and I just wanted to do what I could to give us energy.”

The Phantoms found the back off the net when Andrew Gordon puts a nifty pass from Scott Laughton past JF Berube. With the score tied, another fight broke out. This time it is between veteran forwards Josh Gratton and Jay Rosehill. The Monarchs come away with the slight edge as Gratton downed Rosehill. Shortly after the second fight, the Monarchs go to the power play again. Despites a flurry of shots and Zepp losing his stick, the Monarchs cannot capitalize. It’s the Phantoms getting on the board again to take the lead. Shane Gostisbehere took a rocket of a shot that appeared to change direction and bounce awkwardly past Berube. Gordon ended up being awarded the goal for his second of the game.

With less than two minutes to go in the middle frame, the Phantoms pull out further in the lead. Taylor Leier lifted the puck to easily put it over Berube’s left shoulder. The momentum definitely changed in the middle frame with the Phantoms showing speed and determination. With the time expiring in the second period, the Monarchs seem to find some energy and lodge a couple quick shots.

When the teams came back out for the third period, they were both skating hard. Just over seven minues ito the game, rookie Shane Gothisbehere, who had a great game, went down in the corner. The trainer had to help him off the ice and he went down the tunnel immediately. With that, the momentum seemed to swing back to the Monarchs. Nic Dowd impressively found a way past Zepp for his first of the season. The assists went to Backman and Gratton.

“It’s good to get that first one out of the way,” Dowd said of his first goal of the season. “I think we’re all at the point, though, where we want to win. It doesn’t matter who scores and we support each other. But yeah, it’s good to get that first one of the season out of the way.”

Manchester brought strong pressure again in the second half of the third but lost another player to the boards. This time it was Colin Miller, who had the first goal of the game, who went down after a check by veteran Zack Stortini. Stortini went to the box for a 5 minute major for boarding. Unfortunately for the Monarchs, Brian O’Neill was called for high-sticking just 32 seconds into the major penalty. On a more positive note, Miller reappeared during the 4-on-4 stint. After having only a short period of a powerplay for the boarding major, the Monarchs end up with another penalty as this time Miller sits for slashing.

Towards the end of the game with just over 2 minutes to go, the MOnarchs get a final chance to go on the power play when Brandon Alderson goes off for hooking. The Monarchs had one great shot with a wide open net when Zepp got caught behind his net but the Phantoms defense collected it and the Phantoms would hold on for the win. Zepp ended up with an impressive 42 saves as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms picked up a win for the second game of their road trip.

“We needed to make the power plays count, that’s what went wrong,” Stothers said. “That’s going to be what we need to work on. To have the chances we had and not be able to convert on more of them was frustrating.”

The Monarchs will be home again tonight when they host the Springfield Falcons. Lehigh Valley continues their road trip facing off against Portland.

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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