by Kinsey Janke || for NHL.com
For a team that has dominated the American Hockey League from end to end this season, Saturday night will mark the Manchester Monarchs’ first Calder Cup Finals appearance in the franchise’s 14-year history. Despite all the accolades – both team and individual – and the continued success in 2014-15, the top development affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings remains even-keeled, ready to take on anything.
“Whether we’re up in a game or down in a game, everyone is still the same,” said Monarchs center Nick Shore. “If we keep playing the way that we can, we still have a really good chance at the end of the night. It was a good series for us to sweep Hartford (in the conference finals) and that earned us the 10 days to rest and get ready for the next one.”
After dispatching familiar foes in the Portland Pirates (Arizona), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh), and Hartford Wolf Pack (New York Rangers), “the next one” is the 2015 Calder Cup Finals against the Utica Comets (Vancouver), a team that so far has only come to life via game film produced by the Monarchs’ coaching staff.
Playing a team for the first time is always an adjustment. How they skate, how they check, how they battle – it’s all brand new, often preventing the formation of a true plan of attack.
But the Monarchs aren’t worried.
“Sometimes you think it’s too much time off, or that the guys will get distracted, but they’ve been so good all year long about staying focused and dialed in,” said Manchester head coach Mike Stothers. “That’s a tribute to them as a group and especially our leaders and veteran guys. They’re excited.”
“[Manchester’s] had some good teams in the past, but this is something everyone waits for,” he added. “You realize that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and sometimes you go your whole career without making it to the finals.”
Game 1 of the 2015 Calder Cup Finals is slated for 6 p.m. ET on Saturday in Manchester. Game 2 will be Sunday at 5 p.m. ET, before the series shifts to the Utica Memorial Auditorium. The entire best-of-seven series will be streamed at no charge on the league’s video service, AHL Live (ahllive.com).
The return of Nick Shore has been a boost for the Monarchs following a 34-game stay with the Kings that saw him post a goal and six assists. In his second season as a pro, the 22-year-old Shore made his NHL debut on Jan. 17, centering Dwight King and Jeff Carter in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
Shore racked up 20 goals, 22 assists and a plus-23 rating in 38 regular-season games with Manchester this season, and has added 11 points in 14 playoff games since his return. He has also compiled a plus-13 rating in the postseason, both a beneficiary of and a factor in the Monarchs’ penchant for scoring first and early.
“He has a real high hockey IQ,” Stothers said. “It’s a rare thing that Nick has, in that you can just tell him, he nods, and he’s got it. He’s a quiet guy, but he’s got a really good mind.”
Like his older brother Drew (drafted No. 44 in 2009 by Florida) before him, and his younger brother Quentin (No. 168 in 2013 by Ottawa) after him, Nick (No. 82 in 2011 by Los Angeles) is a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program and the University of Denver. And one can only assume that Baker Shore, the youngest of the four brothers at 15, is well on his way to a future in pro hockey too.
“It’s been great growing up with three brothers, and especially with all of us playing hockey,” Nick said. “We’re all each other’s biggest fans and try to watch as many of each other’s games as we can. It’s definitely nice always having that support system to fall back on.”
Playing just half a season in the AHL, Shore still finished second in goals on the Manchester roster and sixth in points. He was named to the Eastern Conference roster for the All-Star Classic in January, but did not appear, instead skating up top on recall with the Kings. The Shore family had representation anyways, with Drew selected to represent the Calgary Flames organization.
“Nick’s going to have a great career because of how intelligent he is on the ice,” Stothers said. “It’s just a matter of him getting comfortable because he is a little more quiet and shy. He’s very respectful of the veterans. He doesn’t come in there all brash and making bold predictions about what he can and can’t do – he just lets his play do the talking.”
The Pioneers made NCAA tournament appearances all three years of Nick’s tenure, but his current run with the Monarchs is his first true chance at capturing a championship. That opportunity is something that he – and the rest of the team – knows is something special, a true reflection of the hard work put in every day and every night.
“[Los Angeles] was a really good experience for me and it definitely helps. You work all year to be able to play at this time,” Shore said. “Being able to join these guys and having an opportunity to win the Calder Cup is just awesome. We have a really good group down here that has been together for a couple years so we’re just excited to get it started and go from there.”