It was a season that tested the resolve of the Manchester Monarchs, and the 10 players who joined the Kings as Black Aces Thursday – as well as goaltender Martin Jones, who was recalled Monday – showed resiliency in steering the team’s season into the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
Though the season ended in a four-game series defeat to the Springfield Falcons – Springfield earned its three wins in overtime – a Monarchs squad challenged with player transactions won six consecutive games late in the season to leapfrog several teams in earning the seventh seed in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.
“Well, I think there’s a learning curve for young players, learning how to win, and I think we did a real good job towards the end of the year when it was a critical time for us,” said Los Angeles Kings Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall, who serves as the General Manager of the Monarchs.
Post-lockout hockey wasn’t extraordinarily beneficial to Manchester, a team that lost Jake Muzzin, Dwight King, Slava Voynov and Jordan Nolan to Los Angeles, Rich Clune on waivers to Nashville, and Thomas Hickey on waivers to the New York Islanders. Andrei Loktionov was traded to New Jersey in February, while the March 10 recall of Tyler Toffoli to the Kings subtracted the eventual AHL Red Garrett Memorial Award winner from a team that appeared to be rebounding with wins in six out of seven games at the time.
Left wing prospect Tanner Pearson suffered a upper-body injury that kept him out of action between February 23 and March 15, joining Marc-Andre Cliche, Stefan Legein, Brian O’Neill and David Meckler on the list of players affected by the injury bug.
“Quite honestly, it looked like we were in dire straits,” Hextall said. “To our guys’ credit, when we had to get it done, we got it done. And again, to play under the type of pressure and scrutiny, albeit at the minor league level, the players still feel it, and they dealt with it really well. We had a lot of adversity over the course of the year with injuries and having two players claimed on waivers, and then trading Loktionov for a draft pick, so players getting called up and then obviously the injuries to boot. So we had a lot of try-outs and guys in there that certainly did a good job for us. They were playing East Coast League – came in and filled roles for us, but it’s really the core of the group that kept things together.”
The high-end young core included Toffoli, Pearson and center prospect Linden Vey, a group of players that formed among the most effective lines in the American Hockey League.
Toffoli rejoined the team for the season’s final weekend and helped stretch what was a four-game winning streak into a six-game winning streak before the team dropped a meaningless game on the final day of the regular season after they had already clinched the seven seed.
Though the season ended in a first round defeat for the third consecutive year, the team rebounded impressively with challenging circumstances under Head Coach Mark Morris, who offered praise in the aftermath of the team’s third overtime defeat to Springfield.
“We came a long way with this bunch and had a lot of personalities that came through. I am sure after we look at it and this thing dissipates, we will look back and see a lot of growth in these guys,” Morris told ManchesterMonarchs.com.
It was a sentiment shared by Hextall, who noted the team’s character.
“Our effort was there every night, and for the most part I think when you reflect on a season, you judge how well your players did given the ability that you have, the youthfulness. Overall, I was real pleased with the year we had,” Hextall said.
“Obviously you never like to lose in the playoffs, but we took a very, very, very good team to overtime three of the four games, and we won the other game. So in terms of effort, I can’t fault our club.”