Scribe’s note: Please welcome Jungle Dave, our Manchester Monarchs writer. This is his inaugural post. We are thrilled to have this die-hard Monarchs fan and season ticket holder join our team.
It’s in the air… The morning frost. The smell of wood stoves. The changing leaves. The brisk unsettled weather. But there’s something more… You know what it is? It’s the smell of hockey. The fall is finally upon us and in the next few hours, the Monarchs’ season will be in full swing. That means that the jungle will be rocking again, the air packed full of cheers, boos, chants, claps and whistles; music to this Monarchs Country resident’s ears!
This season will mark the Manchester Monarchs’ 11th season in the Queen City of Manchester, New Hampshire. Following a heart-breaking first round exit from the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs, the team’s objective is simple; redemption. They had the tools and the talent going into their series against the Binghamton Senators, but as mad as I was at the outcome, the fact is the Baby Sens wanted it more.
Now I could bring up the fact that Ottawa front-loaded their roster by sending a bunch of two-way guys down following their season’s end, but it is what it is. Even with half a dozen guys possessing a bunch of cumulative experience at the NHL level, it still took 4 overtime games and 1 double-overtime game in a full 7 game series to sink our guys. I’m still proud of ‘em for taking the eventual Calder Cup champs to the absolute limit.
But you know what? It’s water under the bridge. The new season kicks off Friday, October 7th at 7:00pm and I couldn’t be any more excited! The roster looks decidedly different than it did last season – lots of new young faces – but the core of last year’s tough, gritty team remains. They should serve as the bedrock for a team capable of bouncing back.
Between the Pipes
Admittedly, I’m partial to goaltenders. It could be that as a recreational hockey player, I’ve seen what they put up with first-hand; I don’t envy them. It could also be that my wife is a goaltender. A reasonable bias, no? I think it takes a certain amount of insanity to willingly throw oneself in front of 90mph pucks. Thankfully, the Monarchs’ have two brave net-minders ready to stand tall and give the guys a chance to win, Jeff Zatkoff and Martin Jones.
The story of their performances last season could be summed up in one word; streaky. At the start of the season, Zatkoff had a lot of rough games. He just wasn’t the same “octopus with a glove” (as my best friend called him) that he was in the 2009-2010 campaign. It wasn’t until after the AHL All-Star break that we saw flashes of the Zats of old, and in the playoffs, he came up big when he needed to. Coming into his fourth season in Manchester, all signs point to a big season. He knows what he has to do, and in a recent interview, he acknowledges that he feels good; he’s ready.
Having come in as the backup from the Ontario Reign, Martin Jones surprised everyone. When Zats was going through his cold streak, Jones stepped up. He looked amazing for a guy who was relatively unknown to most. The irony is his season performance was the mirror opposite of Zats’; started strong and got leaky after the break. He did however have the honor of representing the Monarchs in the AHL All-Star game. On the precipice of his second year with the Monarchs, we’ll see if he can do everything he did right, just with more consistency.
Will this year be any different? All indications point to yes. Currently Zats is in Europe with the Kings, warming the bench in case Quickers or Bernie need some rest, but will be returning afterwards. In his stead, we have young Ontario Reign goaltender, J.F. Berube. Admittedly, I wasn’t impressed with his play in his couple of games with the Monarchs last season (Zats was injured for a spell). But after seeing him at the Monarchs’ training camp this past weekend, he’s growing on me. There’s no question that his time will come eventually.
The Best Offense… Is a Good Offense
As far as forwards go, the Monarchs’ have always had plenty of fast guys with great hands. The past couple of seasons, a few of the guys have been consistent scorers for ‘em. Sadly, a handful of those same guys are no longer with the Monarchs. Fan favorite snipers Bud Holloway and Oscar Moller both left to sign with a team in the Swedish Elite League. The tenacious and talented John Zeiler left to go play in Germany (with 2009-2010 captain Gabe Gauthier). And the skilled – if not slightly gun-shy – center Corey Elkins also took his game overseas. So what does that leave?
If there’s one thing that the Monarchs’ roster has never been short on, it’s guys who aren’t afraid to get dirty. They’ll push opposing players’ buttons, get into their heads, and maybe get into a bit of fisticuffs. Two of the more prolific pugilists are feisty winger Rich Clune (aka Cluner) and a recent fan favorite, Justin Johnson (or JJ for short). Both of them made sure that no un-called cheap shot went unchecked, and the fans loved them for it. They’re both psyched to be back, as are their legion of fans.
While Cluner and JJ regulate the post-whistle shenanigans, several skilled forwards stand to put some numbers up on the board. 2010-2011 captain Marc-Andre Cliche is back from off-season surgery and looking strong. the second part of one of last season’s highest scoring lines, Andrei Loktionov, is also once again healthy and ready to play. Last season’s new guys, Ray Kaunisto, Jordan Nolan and Brandon Kozun certainly have to be looking to leave their marks and prove they belong in the big show. Other Monarchs vets like Justin Azevedo (aka Azzy), Dwight King (the Monarchs’ cheshire cat) and David Meckler (or Mecks) all know what they have to do and have been consistent producers in previous seasons.
Joining the pool of experienced guys on the front-lines, we have several new faces with Rob Mignardi, Linden Vey, Andy Andreoff , Cam Paddock, and Robbie Czarnik. Mignardi, Vey, Andreoff, and Czarnik are all newcomers to the AHL-level, but Cam Paddock spent two seasons with the Peoria Rivermen in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, racking up 8 and 15 goals, respectively.
The Second-to-Last Line of Defense
Another area that the 2011-2012 Monarchs have changed is in the area of defense. The slew of off-season transactions have brought in a few new D-men. Joe Charlebois and Nicolas Deslauriers were signed and will be donning the purple and gold this season (barring any PTA releases). Charlebois spent two seasons with the Rockford IceHogs (2008-2009 and 2009-2010) racking up two assists in 15 games. Deslauriers’ metal at the professional level has yet to be tested, though.
Filling the defensive line with all of the new guys, we have several returning players from last season (and some from seasons prior). Notables include Slava Voynov, the player who many argue should have taken Parse’s spot with the Kings. He will return to once again be one of the highest scoring defenders in the AHL. He’ll be joined by top prospect Thomas Hickey, surprise 2010-2011 stand-out Jordan Hill, the sturdy and capable David Kolomatis, the enthusiastic Andrew Campbell, and the quick, diligent Patrick Mullen.
Here’s to New Beginnings
At the open practice I was able to attend, it was sometimes difficult to keep track of who was who since players were nameless; they only had numbers on the back of their helmets. But I noticed two important things watching this season’s roster-to-be; they’re fast and there’s more than one really strong-arm in the bunch. I fully expect to see more than one lost defender as a bottle pops off the net, all while a bewildered look comes over the face of an empty-gloved goalie as the red light above their head lights up and the crowd goes crazy.
They have the speed, talent and skill. All that’s left is the will. Mental toughness is a huge part of the game, and one thing is very clear to me. This group is hungry. After last season’s premature playoff exit, they are ready to remind their division rivals that they should fear the jungle!
I’m ready for Monarchs hockey. Are you?