Saturday, 13 June 2015

Defending In A Different City

For a team that missed the playoffs, it's always a comforting feeling when that team's AHL affiliate posts some big success on the farm. The Los Angeles Kings missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, but the Manchester Monarchs closed out the Utica Comets to win the Calder Cup tonight as seen to the left. That's AHL Commissioner David Andrews handing the Calder Cup to Monarchs captain Vincent LoVerde after they downed the Comets in Game Five by a 2-1 score. This won't be the same celebration, though, as any other team before this Monarchs team.

There were cheers. There were celebrations. There will be a parade in Manchester, New Hampshire. The players will clean out their lockers and go home for the summer in preparation for the following season where they will defend their championship. The difference, however, is that they will defend their championship in another city as the Monarchs will no longer be part of the AHL.

The Monarchs are one of the teams whose AHL membership has been transferred to a new city - in this case, Ontario, California - in order to move the AHL affiliates of the west coast NHL teams close to their NHL parent team. When the players make their way back to the rink, it will be on the opposite coast as a member of the Ontario Reign rather than the Manchester Monarchs. Something just doesn't seem right when you say "the defending Calder Cup champions" when talking about the Reign. Sure, the majority of the players won the championship, but Manchester was where it was won when the team was named "Monarchs".

In any case, the Monarchs closed out this series with a new goaltender as starter Jean-Fran├žois Berube was injured in Game Three with a sprained ankle. Patrik Bartosak took over at the 7:51 mark of the first period in that game after having played a grand total of zero minutes in this year's Calder Cup Playoffs. While he played well in Game Three, the Comets struck three times to win 3-2 to make the series a 2-1 Manchester advantage. Would the goaltending change be the Achilles' heel for the Monarchs?

You already know that answer, so let's take a look at where things changed for the Monarchs.

Game Four was an absolute rubber factory in the Utica zone as the Monarchs peppered Comets' goaltender Jacob Markstrom with 33 shots in this game. There were another pile of shots blocked and a number that missed the net that made things look more respectable, but the Monarchs simply overwhelmed the Comets in this game. Two goals on sixteen shots in the first period got them out to a good start, but the Comets chipped away before the end of the first period to knot the game up at 2-2. Four straight goals from the Monarchs over the next 27:27 put this game out of reach for a comeback as the Monarchs skated to the 6-3 win with Bartosak winning his first-ever Calder Cup Playoffs start.

That set up Game Five with the Calder Cup in the Utica's Verizon Wireless Arena. The Monarchs were the AHL's best team all year, so winning was expected despite the battles they found themselves in during these playoffs. Adrian Kempe and captain LoVerde scored 3:07 apart in the first period to stake the Monarchs to a 2-0 lead while Bartosek, making his second start in the playoffs, was perfect through 59:45. A Cal O'Reilly goal with 14.8 seconds remaining cut the lead to 2-1, but the celebration on the Monarchs bench had already begun.

Your 79th AHL Calder Cup Champions are the Manchester Monarchs!

Jordan Weal, a third-round selection by the Los Angeles Kings in 2010, was named as the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the MVP in the Calder Cup Playoffs after posting a playoff-best 22 points on 10 goals and 12 assists. The Monarchs captured the first Calder Cup in franchise history, and most likely the last in the city that the city of Manchester will see. The Monarchs went 15-4 in the playoffs on their run to the final, dropping two games to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the opening round before going 12-2 in the next three rounds.

A special mention should be made for Paul Bissonnette who signed with Manchester last fall just to continue to play hockey after failing to catch on with an NHL team. BizNasty played 11 games in the Calder Cup Playoffs, but failed to record a point. He finished as a +1, though, proving that he wasn't a defensive liability in his time on the ice for the Monarchs. Kudos to Paul Bissonnette as he'll have some new hardware on his fingers after helping Manchester to the Calder Cup championship!

In a couple of months, the defending Calder Cup champions, the Ontario Reign, will take to the ice... despite the fact that the Reign never won the AHL championship trophy.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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