MANCHESTER, N.H. – Summer’s over and the Manchester Monarchs head begin their regular season this weekend with a few new faces, a lot of familiar ones and high expectations.
Behind the bench, the Monarchs return with new head coach Doug Christensen. This marks the first North American coaching role for Christensen, who led teams in the United Kingdom over the past seven seasons following seven seasons playing in the ECHL, AHL and in Scotland.
Christensen played five games in Manchester and seeks to create a squad that rekindles the glory days of the franchise.
“I know what the energy is (here), I know this is a hockey town,” said Christensen. “It’s about having success on the ice, putting together a brand of hockey that people want to watch and spend their hard-earned money on a Friday or Saturday night and have them feel valued and appreciated by us as players and coaches.”
In training camp, Christensen was pleased with the work ethic from his players, and he believes the talent is there to put Manchester in contention for a Kelly Cup this spring. Perhaps one of the biggest trials will be keeping the speed and aggressiveness that was a hallmark of last year’s club while avoiding mental errors that held the Monarchs back on some nights.
“We talk about being the hardest working team and the smartest working team, they work in tandem,” said Christensen. “Recognizing all of the factors present during the game will hopefully help us play fast, play as a team, and play an aggressive brand of hockey that will not only lead to the players’ success but will also bring fans to the building.”
Among the 22 players on Manchester’s opening day roster, 14 had a spot at one point or another on last year’s team, including the return of Gasper Kopitar.
Including the 2018-’19 season, which he spent on injured reserve, the upcoming campaign marks the sixth for the younger brother of Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar.
He and second year standout Spencer Watson will seek to replace the 34 goals of Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman, playing this season in Germany.
Watson split time between Manchester and the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Ontario last year, but at his scoring rate last season, he would have netted 36 goals. That figure would have been second only to the 41 of Colorado’s Michael Joly.
It’s likely that Watson will again split time between the two leagues this season, but in terms of transactions, the Monarchs’ roster relies heavily on back and forth from the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds. Like last season, Florida Panthers have lost Roberto Luongo to injury. That put James Reimer in the top goaltending spot, with Springfield’s Michael Hutchinson recalled to fill Reimer’s spot as the backup/platoon mate in Florida, leading to Springfield recalling Chris Driedger from his loan to Manchester.
Christensen believes Driedger will play a role with the Monarchs once Luongo returns, and expects other players such as 2016 NHL Draft pick Stepan Falkovsky to move toward the highest levels of hockey thanks to their time at SNHU Arena.
“We’re going to continue working with our affiliates, hopefully we can help them develop players here and help them move on, and while they’re here, I expect them to be key contributors,” said Christensen.
The Monarchs begin their season with road games in Canada on Saturday and Sunday against the Brampton Beast before returning home for their home opener next Friday night against the Newfoundland Growlers.