Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Manchester Monarchs Face Tough Opposition in the AHL's Atlantic Division

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season. The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - The Manchester Monarchs...

Despite a 5-2 loss to the Lowell Devils on Friday night, the Manchester Monarchs remain in first place in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division. The AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings has remained at the top of the division for most of the season but the Devils have climbed within two points of the division lead. With the Worcester Sharks only four points back, the tide is turning against the Atlantic Division leaders and the race for first is heating up as the AHL all-star game approaches.

General Manager Ron Hextall and Head Coach Mark Morris have the Monarchs playing well in all facets of the game. They have a 25-12-1-4 win/loss record and their 95 goals against is second best in the league; behind the league leading Hershey Bears (92 goals against). Fans at the 10,092 seat Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester have witnessed a tremendous penalty kill, currently third in the league at 87.6% and an equally impressive power play (19.4%, fifth in the league). The city of Manchester has supported the Monarchs and there is growing interest as the team continues to win. Averaging 4,811 fans per game (10th in the AHL), over 5,000 fans attended the game on Friday evening.

Cliché time: The best offence is often a good defence - and good defence starts in nets... and goaltending is where the Monarchs have excelled. Led by the LA Kings first round pick (11th overall) in the 2006 entry draft, Laval Quebec native Jonathan Bernier, the Monarchs know they can take a few chances offensively and Bernier will be there to bail them out if necessary. The back up goaltender to current Columbus Blue Jacket net minder Steve Mason at the 2008 World Junior Championship, Bernier won a gold medal with Team Canada. He also started the 2007-2008 NHL season with the Kings in London England against the Anaheim Ducks. After winning the game 4-1, Bernier was named the second star; not too many players have begun their NHL career overseas as Bernier did. This season with the Monarchs, he has a 17-10-4 record with a 2.05 goals against average and a remarkable .938 save percentage.

The leading scorer on the Monarchs is AHL rookie, Cory Elkins. A native of West Bloomfield Michigan, Elkins signed as a free agent with the Kings March 31, 2009 after spending three years at Ohio State University. He earned a trip to Los Angeles in December, playing in three games and scoring his first NHL goal against the Calgary Flames. Elkins is eighth in rookie scoring with 11 goals and 15 assists. He has two short-handed goals, five goals on the power play and he is a plus nine. Last season, in his final year at Ohio State, he led the team in scoring with 41 points in 42 games and the team earned a spot in the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament but lost in the first round.

Another valuable member of the Monarchs is defenseman, Viatcheslav Voynov. The 5’11, 200 pound D-man from Chelyabinsk Russia was a second round pick of the Kings (32nd overall) in the 2008 entry draft. Signed to a three-year entry-level contract by Los Angeles, Voynov is playing his second season in the AHL with the Monarchs. After accumulating 23 points as a rookie last year, Voynov has 7 goals and 14 assists this season and is the leading scorer on the blue line. A bronze medalist with Team Russia at the World Junior Championship in 2007 and 2008, he wore the “A” as an assistant captain for the Russian squad.

The week ahead for the Monarchs is not a busy one but a very important one nonetheless. Today they are on the road, taking on the third place Worcester Sharks and on Sunday they host another division rival that is chasing them down, the Hartford Wolf Pack. Hartford currently sits in fourth place in the division with 47 points and will play the Monarchs again in Hartford on January 22. To finish the month of January, the Monarchs play four of their next eight games against Hartford and the division lead could hang in the balance during this important stretch of games.

Next week, The Voice of Sport AHL team profile heads back up to Canada, looking at the Vancouver Canucks AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Dinur on Flickr

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