WHEELING, W.Va. – The Manchester Monarchs have reasserted themselves atop the ECHL North Division standings, at least for now, following Saturday’s 5-2 road victory over the Wheeling Nailers.
Despite a 39-11 shot disadvantage over the first two periods, the Monarchs miraculously found themselves in the lead heading into the second intermission.
Manchester withstood the Wheeling onslaught thanks in large part to an outstanding performance from goaltender Charles Williams.
Williams, one of the best goaltenders in the ECHL this season, made an emphatic mark in his first game back since a brief loan to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the AHL. He ended the night with 43 saves, one short of personal record this season in 25 appearances for the Monarchs.
Manchester was buoyed on the other end of the ice by Spencer Watson, scoring two early goals and adding an assist later in the contest, and by Jake Wood’s goal at 7:34 in the second period.
Indeed, if it was not for Cody Wydo’s goal seven seconds after Watson’s second goal and Nick Sorkin’s goal nine seconds after Wydo’s goal, one looking at the scoreboard might not believe the Nailers’ utter dominance of the momentum early in the contest.
However, the fact that the Monarchs could not only withstand that rough spot, but take a lead in spite of it, was a huge confidence booster that translated into a completely different tenor in the third period.
There, Michael Doherty gave the Monarchs a two-goal lead just 12 seconds into proceedings, followed by a Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman goal at 7:54 to seal Manchester’s victory.
“Any time you don’t play as well as you’re capable of and you find a way to win, that’s a good thing,” said Monarchs head coach Richard Seeley. “We got outshot badly, we got outplayed badly, but we found a way to weather the storm. We played better in the third period, we found some things. It wasn’t pretty, but at the end of the season they’re now going to ask how (you got the win.)”
Keegan Iverson and David Kolomatis also added two assists.
With the win, Manchester stands at 54 points: two ahead of Wheeling and Adirondack and four ahead of Reading in the North Division playoff race, with Brampton looking in at the final playoff spot with 40 points.
Coming into the night, the division’s top four all stood at 24 wins each, something that will likely add increased importance to Sunday’s rematch against Wheeling.
“To be honest with you, I hadn’t looked at it until before this game,” said Seeley on the standings. “I think it will be close the whole way through. We talk about the importance of getting points on the road and any time you can do that, it’s a good thing.”
Seeley declined to announce who will be starting in goal on Sunday, clouding whether he will return to the platoon system he’s used throughout most of the season.
The return of Williams saw the departure of Brandon Komm, who departed for the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds earlier this week.
In the place of Komm comes Boston University standout Matt O’Connor.
O’Connor arrives from Nashville Predators AHL affiliate Milwaukee following stops this season in the ECHL with Quad City and Atlanta. The Toronto native also made an appearance last season in the NHL for Ottawa and appeared in 71 games over the last three season for Binghamton in the AHL.