Every member of the Manchester Monarchs dreams of making it to the National Hockey League. This season, 20 (former) Monarchs have been crowned Kings for at least a day.
The American Hockey League is designed to be a stepping stone on the road to the NHL. It is a place where individuals can work on their game and develop their skills in order to prepare themselves for the big show.
Many of them, just young men, have traveled several countries, even continents to play for the highest level of pro hockey in the world. They left family and friends for a strange world with language barriers and cultural differences, where the only way they know how to communicate is through hockey.
Others do not have to travel far at all. Left wing Noah Clarke is a California native and grew up watching his beloved Kings. A native of Nashua, N.H., Jeff Giuliano grew up 20 minutes from the Verizon Wireless Arena where he has played for the Monarchs for parts of four seasons. Whether they had to travel across town, across the country or across an ocean to the Staples Center to make their dream come true, they will all say the trip was worth it.
The 2005-06 season has seen a large number of players that have donned the purple and gold Monarchs uniform at one time or another, put on the coveted Kings jersey. Making the Kings team out of training camp this season included center Derek Armstrong, left wing Sean Avery, left wing Dustin Brown, center Michael Cammalleri, defenseman Joe Corvo, goaltender Mathieu Garon, defenseman Tim Gleason, right wing Tom Kostopoulos, right wing George Parros and defenseman Mike Weaver.
Brown, Cammalleri, Garon, Gleason, Kostopoulos and Weaver continued to work on developing their game with the Monarchs during the 2004-05 NHL work stoppage, four of which became AHL All-Stars with one leading the AHL in goal scoring. They all proved they were ready for the next level.
Plagued with injuries for the third straight season, the Kings have given a new group of youngsters their shot to become NHL stars this season. Two such stars are Parros and Giuliano. Parros, a Princeton University graduate, spent a majority of last season in Manchester setting new career records for games played (67), goals (14) and penalty minutes (247). The 6-foot-5, 215-pound native of Washington, Pa., also had a brief hiatus with the ECHL’s Reading Royals during the 2004-05 season. In one calendar year, Parros worked hard and moved from the ECHL to the AHL to the NHL and made the Kings roster out of training camp in October.
Giuliano will be the first person to tell you that he needs to work on developing his skills, but his energy and determination has brought a whole new attitude to the Kings locker room. The 5-foot-9, 205-pounder from New Hampshire has a work ethic that is admirable and his passion has earned him a spot in Los Angeles. In regards to whether Giuliano had solidified a role in the Kings line-up, the head coach of Los Angeles Andy Murray commented that "he is a King."
Nine additional players have been juggled between the East Coast and West Coast this season, racking up a ton of frequent flyer miles. Clarke, the first California native to wear the Kings sweater, has made the cross-country trip a couple of times along with fellow teammates center Matt Ryan, left wing Ryan Flinn and goaltender Adam Hauser. Defenseman Richard Petiot is the most traveled Monarchs/Kings player, having made the trek to Los Angeles four times in the first half of the season alone.
All-Star defenseman Denis Grebeshkov has also had his shot with the Kings. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound native of Yaroslavl, Russia, and first-round draft pick of the Kings (18th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Grebeshkov led all AHL defensemen during the 2004-05 season with 44 assists. He will make his second consecutive All-Star appearance at the 2006 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic in Winnipeg next week.
Rookie left wing Jeff Tambellini made his NHL debut at the United Center when the Kings played the Chicago Blackhawks on November 30. The University of Michigan standout was leading the Monarchs in scoring at the time of his recall and appeared in four games with the Kings. He will be joining Grebeshkov in Winnipeg next week in his first All-Star appearance.
Left wing Petr Kanko had a picture perfect NHL debut versus the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on December 16, scoring his first NHL goal to tie the game in the eventual 4-3 Kings shootout victory.
At the beginning of the season, center Connor James signed an AHL standard player contract. James skated his heart out each and every night for the Monarchs. Then on January 4, the Kings rewarded the 23-year-old from Calgary, Alta., with his first NHL contract and a trip to the West Coast. He now has two NHL games under his belt and continues to work on his game in Manchester in the hopes of returning to Los Angeles in the future.
Through all of the injuries and call-ups to the Kings, both Los Angeles and Manchester continue to win and are top contenders in their respective divisions. On several occasions, the Los Angeles Times newspaper has penned that the Monarchs have won in Los Angeles, accentuating the number of Manchester players that have been on ice for the Kings this season.
Manchester fans had the opportunity to see many of these former Monarchs in action on January 12 when the Kings traveled East to play the Boston Bruins at the TD Banknorth Garden. Monarchs fans showed up to cheer on their (former) team and the Kings players showed up to play for their fans as they beat the Bruins 6-0.
Garon earned his second shutout of the season stopping all 30 shots that he faced. Brown, Cammalleri and Corvo scored goals just as they did so many times at the Verizon Wireless Arena. Kings left wing Alexander Frolov took the energy that Monarchs fans provided from the stands to collect a hat trick on the ice.
Fans were able to cheer on Grebeshkov and Ryan who had been in Monarchs uniforms just two weeks earlier. Local boy Giuliano made a dream come true as he skated in his hometown in front of virtually a hometown crowd as he had over 80 members of his family and friends at the game to cheer him on.
The Kings players commented after the game that the fans that traveled the 53 miles south to watch the game had cheered so loud that they felt like they were playing in a home game rather than a road game.
The members of the Monarchs are proving to themselves and the world what Monarchs fans already know, that they are ready for the NHL.