AHL Weekly Release: Monarchs roar back into hunt


mch06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Manchester Monarchs were in sixth place in the Atlantic Division and 10 points out of a Calder Cup Playoff spot following a 3-9-0-1 showing for the month of January. But in a complete about-face, the Monarchs surged to a 9-3-0-1 mark in February and now March is coming in like a lion in New Hampshire.

Entering the stretch drive tied with Lowell for the fourth and final postseason berth in the Atlantic Division, third-year head coach Mark Morris has his Monarchs at 29-26-0-6 (64 points) after they began March with a 2-1 win in Springfield on Sunday. Manchester has never missed the playoffs since joining the AHL in 2001-02, the third-longest active postseason streak in the league behind division rivals Hartford (11 seasons) and Providence (10).

The 2008-09 Monarchs are a relatively young team, featuring 11 players who have yet to celebrate their 23rd birthday, including four who are less than 21 years old. But the veteran of the group, captain Marty Murray, is also Manchester’s leading scorer with 40 points (10-30-40) in 58 games. A 2001 Calder Cup champion with the Saint John Flames, Murray posted 15 points (3-12-15) in 11 February contests.

Teddy Purcell, the AHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2007-08, put up 18 points (7-11-18) in an 11-game span in February and was recalled to the parent Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 23. Purcell leads the Monarchs with 16 goals – including six game-winners – and ranks second with 38 points. Former first-round draft choice Trevor Lewis has already eclipsed his rookie totals in goals (14), assists (21) and points (35) through 56 games. An AHL All-Star in 2008, Gabe Gauthier has put up seven points (3-4-7) in his last six games to give him 33 for the season (8-25-33). Matt Moulson has battled injuries to contribute 32 points (14-18-32) in 35 games, and Scott Parse shows 30 points (13-17-30) and a team-best plus-9 rating thus far in his first full AHL campaign.

Twenty-year-old rookie Justin Azevedo burst onto the scene with seven points (4-3-7) in his first five AHL games in November after leading the OHL in assists (81) and points (124) in 2007-08, and he’s got 10-17-27 in 30 games overall. Five more rookies can be found among Manchester’s defensive corps, led by Alec Martinez, who registered eight points (1-7-8) in 13 February games after entering the month with 11 points in his first 43 contests. Davis Drewiske is a plus-7 with 13 points (1-12-13), and 19-year-old Viatcheslav Voynov shows 14 points (5-9-14) in 42 games after being drafted by Los Angeles in the second round last June.

After Jonathan Quick was recalled by Los Angeles on Dec. 16, the Monarchs turned the goaltending reins over to rookie Jonathan Bernier, drafted 11th overall by the Kings in 2006. Bernier shows a 1.62 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in his last five games and is approaching the .500 mark for the season at 15-17-3 (2.57, .906). Counterpart Daniel Taylor has won seven of his 10 AHL outings thus far (7-2-1, 2.29, .921) this season and is 20-7-3 in 33 career AHL appearances.

Manchester will play 12 of its final 19 games on home ice, and the Monarchs open a stretch of four games in five days by hosting Springfield at the Verizon Wireless Arena on Wednesday.

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SOUND TIGERS SURGE INTO SECOND … Bridgeport took a pair of 3-2 victories over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in a home-and-home set last weekend, including an overtime decision in the back end on Sunday in Pennsylvania. The wins put the Sound Tigers (36-17-3-5, 80 points) two points ahead of the Penguins in the race for second place in the East Division, and just four back of the front-running Hershey Bears.

Rookie Jesse Joensuu, who earned his first NHL recall earlier today, is riding a season-high six-game scoring streak (3-6-9) for the Sound Tigers. Leading scorer Mike Iggulden has a point in five straight (3-4-7), and first-year goaltender Nathan Lawson stopped 67 of 71 shots (.944) against the Pens last weekend to go to 4-0-2 in his last six decisions.

Bridgeport now shows an 11-game points streak (8-0-0-3) since its last regulation loss, a 2-1 setback in Philadelphia on Feb. 8. The Sound Tigers open a four-game homestand on Tuesday against Norfolk.

RECORD CROWDS TAKE IN AHL ACTION … More than 110,000 fans attended 14 AHL games across North America on Saturday night, the second-highest attendance total on a single day over the past four years.

A capacity crowd of 15,003 fans – an AHL season high – took in Manitoba’s 5-2 victory over Peoria at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg; a franchise-record showing of 10,265 attended Military Appreciation Night in San Antonio, the Rampage’s first home game since Jan. 30; a Philadelphia season-high crowd of 10,277 watched the Phantoms edge Providence in a shootout; and sellout crowds packed Eastern Conference arenas in Hershey (10,542) and Portland (6,982).

On Friday night, the Iowa Chops welcomed 10,475 fans – the largest crowd to ever watch an AHL game in Des Moines – to Wells Fargo Arena for the team’s annual Pink in the Rink Night in support of breast cancer awareness.

DEBUTING IN STYLE … A pair of AHL graduates made immediate impacts for their NHL affiliates over the weekend. On Saturday, 2009 AHL All-Star Cal O’Reilly posted an assist on his second NHL shift for Nashville in what would become an 8-0 victory over Detroit. O’Reilly leads the Milwaukee Admirals with 57 points (11-46-57) in 57 games this season after posting a team-high 79 points (16-63-79) for Milwaukee in 2007-08.

Recalled from Rockford on Thursday, goaltender Antti Niemi made his NHL debut in relief vs. Pittsburgh on Friday, then made 22 saves in his first NHL start to lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a 4-2 win over Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon. In his first season in North America, Niemi ranks among the AHL leaders with a 2.41 goals-against average in 30 games for the IceHogs (13-12-3).

ETC. … Chicago Wolves goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has surrendered just six goals in his last six starts, stopping 195 of 201 shots (.970) over that span… Hartford’s current six-game winning streak its longest since another six-game run from Feb. 16-25, 2007, and the Wolf Pack are 10-3-1-0 in their last 14 road contests… Rockford’s Pascal Pelletier tallied his fourth four-point game of the season with two goals and two assists on Friday at Houston… Aeros goaltender Nolan Schaefer has hit the 20-win mark (20-15-5) in a season for the first time in his career… Philadelphia rookie Claude Giroux scored the game-winner in the eighth round of a shootout on Saturday vs. Providence in his first game with the Phantoms since Jan. 18… Jordan Henry’s shorthanded, delayed-penalty goal with 30.9 seconds left in regulation gave Rochester a 3-2 win over Binghamton on Sunday… Hershey’s Graham Mink put up nine points (5-4-9) and a plus-8 rating in four games last week… The Bears have scored 10 first-period goals on 35 shots in their last four games, but have allowed nine on 45 shots… Worcester’s 7-3 win over Springfield on Saturday marked the first time the Sharks hit the seven-goal mark since a 7-6 overtime victory at Binghamton on Apr. 7, 2007… Eight of Grand Rapids’ last 10 games have been decided by a one-goal margin; the Griffins are 17-6-6-6 in one-goal games for the season… Grand Rapids has the fewest penalty minutes in the league (767), less than half of Syracuse’s league-leading total (1,545).