Monarchs on cusp of playoff berth after exceptional Friday performance

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Matt Schmalz on March 23, 2018 (credit – Rich Tilton)

MANCHESTER, NH – Playoff hockey is just around the corner, and on Friday night the Manchester Monarchs looked like a team destined for a deep run this spring with a convincing 5-0 victory against the Adirondack Thunder.

The Monarchs came out with a noticeable spring in their step during the first half of the first period, outshooting the Thunder, 5-1.

Just seconds after the conclusion of his slashing penalty, Spencer Watson returned to the ice and into a Monarchs attack, taking the puck from the left side of Adirondack goaltender Olivier Mantha and crossed the crease, curving it just past Mantha’s right skate.

Matt Schmalz would add Manchester’s second goal immediately after the next faceoff, coming in on Mantha’s right side and casually poking it past the Thunder netminder’s left pad.

Watson added a power play goal eight minutes into the second period after collecting Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman’s rebound.

The game took on a more physical nature following Watson’s goal, beginning with a collision that left Manchester netminder Evan Cowley requiring medical attention.

Cowley was fine, but the temperature of the contest continued to rise.

Ashton Rome collected a misconduct penalty following the aftermath of the Cawley incident, delaying a faceoff by slapping the puck to the other side of the rink out of frustration. He’d return at the beginning of the third period, but would earn another misconduct just under a minute later.

That misconduct came on top of a five-minute major for fighting Mike Bergin, who nonchalantly bumped into Rome after Rome’s hard check to Adirondack forward Ryan Schmelzer.

Rome also had two misconduct penalties on November 25 as a member of the Worcester Railers during that day’s contest against Wheeling. That game and tonight’s game account for half of Rome’s penalty minutes in 36 ECHL appearances for Worcester and Manchester so far this season.

Michael Doherty provided Manchester a fourth goal halfway through the third period on an odd man breakaway, his fourth goal in six games.

That gave Manchester’s top two lines a pair of goals each and Ryan Lough would give the third line a goal as well, scoring in his Monarchs debut 12:25 into the third period.

It was a quality night all-around for the Monarchs, and it was a night where the Monarchs displayed an energy evident of a team looking for vengeance after their humiliating weekend against Adirondack here at SNHU Arena earlier this month.

“It’s an in-division game, it’s a four-point game. It’s late March and all these games mean something. We’re trending in the right direction and we know it’s going to be a battle all the way through,” said Manchester head coach Rich Seeley. “I’m going to also say we didn’t play the way we wanted to when we last had Adirondack in our building. They got the better of us and I think we remembered that and wanted to be ready to go.”

Manchester’s played ten games so far this month, but Friday’s win marked only the second time they had a lead at the first intermission, with the first time coming on Wednesday against Reading.

“When you have (a quick start), you’ll talk about it and preach it. You really want to have a good start all the time and be ready from the drop of the puck,” said Seeley. “For the last month and a half or so, we weren’t already to go and tonight we were.”

Worcester defeated Reading shortly after Manchester’s victory, so clinching a playoff berth until Saturday at the earliest. Manchester can seal that berth with anything other than a loss to Adirondack on Saturday. Even then, they can still clinch the berth with a loss if Worcester cannot defeat Reading in regulation.

If Manchester can defeat Adirondack on Saturday night, they would need to win just two of their final six games to clinch the ECHL North Division title.