Kings’ pipeline features Granite State stepping stone

by Kim Mueller || AHL On The Beat Archive

Jason LaBarbera won the Baz Bastien Award playing for Manchester in 2006-07 (photo: Getty Images)

The Manchester Monarchs joined the American Hockey League family in 2001 as the top affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. The Monarchs’ goal, as well as the AHL’s goal, is to develop young players so they can play in the top league in the world, the National Hockey League. Over the last seven years, Manchester has produced 17 players that can be seen skating full-time in jerseys that belong to NHL teams.

These talented players had varying stays in Manchester and impacted the Monarchs in both small and large capacities. The shortest stay in Manchester belongs to Los Angeles Kings center Derek Armstrong, who played in two games for the Monarchs during the 2002-03 season and compiled three goals and four penalty minutes. Center Jerred Smithson’s 182 games from 2001-04 is the longest a current NHL player called Manchester home. Smithson collected 16 goals and 47 assists for 63 points and 156 penalty minutes with the Monarchs. He has spent the last three seasons with the Nashville Predators where his checker role has brought him 42 points (17g, 25a) and 146 penalty minutes in 211 games.

Several memorable Monarchs that still hold records in Manchester are Los Angeles center Patrick O’Sullivan and goaltender Jason LaBarbera, Calgary center Michael Cammalleri, Buffalo’s Adam Mair and Anaheim right wing George Parros. O’Sullivan split the 2006-07 season between Manchester and Los Angeles but led the Monarchs to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs and has his name on several records in the team’s playoff history. O’Sullivan holds the record for goals (eight), points (17) and shots (66) in a playoff season and is also tied for the lead in games played (16) and assists (nine). He played in all 82 games of the 2007-08 season with the Kings and finished fourth on the roster with 53 points (22g, 31a).

LaBarbera put up stellar numbers in a Monarchs uniform during the 2006-07 campaign, finishing as runner-up in voting for the AHL’s Most Valuable Player award and winning his second Baz Bastien Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender. While in Manchester, he played in 62 games for 6,618 minutes, collected a 39-20-1 record, a 2.20 goals-against-average, a .933 save-percentage and made 1,862 saves in one season. He also appeared in 19 consecutives games from Nov. 18 to Dec. 29, 2006, which tied a franchise record. LaBarbera moved to Los Angeles for the 2007-08 season but was hampered with injuries throughout the season.

Cammalleri earned the AHL’s goal-scoring title and finished second in points, tallying 46 goals and 63 assists for 109 points during the 2004-05 season, the most any Monarchs player has scored in franchise history for one season. He also stepped into the record books that season with 17 power-play goals. The 5-foor-9, 180-pound native of Richmond Hill, Ont., played in 133 games and recorded 71 goals (ranked second in franchise history), 97 assists (third) and 168 points (second) from 2002-05. Cammalleri played three seasons with the Kings before being traded to Calgary on June 21, 2008, at the NHL Entry Draft.

Skating for the Monarchs, Mike Cammalleri led the AHL with 46 goals in 2004-05 (photo: Getty Images)

Mair, who has been playing for the Buffalo Sabres the last three seasons, netted the Monarchs first hat trick in team history and the only hat trick the team has scored in the Calder Cup Playoffs. The 2001-02 season went without players netting three goals in a single game until April 17, 2002, when Mair lit the lamp three times in the Monarchs’ 6-2 postseason win over Hartford. The three pucks are still hanging on the wall in the Monarchs offices.

Several players joined the Monarchs after winning the Stanley Cup but Parros became the first player to leave Manchester and hoist the Stanley Cup above his head. He played in 133 games with the Monarchs from 2002-05 and collected 32 points (17-15=32) and 380 penalty minutes before joining the NHL fulltime with Los Angeles in 2005-06. The following season, Parros had a brief stint in Colorado before he joined the Anaheim Ducks, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2007. Parros ranks sixth all-time on the Monarchs with 380 penalty minutes.

Parros competed against former Monarchs defenseman Joe Corvo (Ottawa) in the Stanley Cup Final in 2007. Corvo played in all 80 games in the 2001-02 season and netted the first goal in franchise history at the Verizon Wireless Arena. Following that first goal, he went on to score 20 more in a Monarchs uniform and added 55 assists for 76 points in 106 games from 2001-03. Corvo left the Monarchs to play two seasons with the Kings, one full season with Ottawa and then he split the 2007-08 season between Ottawa and Carolina.

Other notable players that have passed through Manchester on their way to achieving their dreams of playing in the NHL are Sean Avery (Dallas), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles), Mathieu Garon (Edmonton), Tim Gleason (Carolina), Denis Grebeshkov (Edmonton), Cristobal Huet (Chicago), Tom Kostopoulos (Montreal), David Steckel (Washington) and Mike Weaver (St. Louis).

Not only have players moved up to the NHL after spending time in Manchester but the first coach in Monarchs history, Bruce Boudreau, was promoted to the Washington Capitals in November of 2007. He went on to win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL coach of the year for the 2007-08 season after he turned a team that was 6-14-1 when he arrived on November 22, 2007, to a team with a record of 37-17-7 under his leadership. The Capitals won the Southeast Division title for the first time in seven years and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

Both coaches and players alike dream of reaching the NHL and they do everything they can to reach that goal. They move up the ranks game-by-game and league-by-league to reach the NHL. The Monarchs are a stepping stone for the Kings and the NHL. More players and coaches will walk through the doors of the Verizon Wireless Arena on their journey to reaching their dreams.