No quick reset? No problem.
The Manchester Monarchs, who are vying for the first Calder Cup in the franchise’s 14-year history, were not fazed by the long layoff between their five-game, second-round series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and four-game sweep of the Hartford Wolfpack in the Eastern Conference Final.
Nor did they appear to be affected by long layoffs during the regular season. In schedule quirks that resulted in at least five full days in between games, Manchester went 7-1-1 when play resumed.
Having last played on May 27 – the ninth win in a 10-game span for Mike Stothers’ club – the Monarchs will again look to summon the immediate jump and channeled emotion when the puck drops at 6:00 p.m. local time at the Verizon Wireless Arena. That fire shouldn’t be hard to spark in a championship series.
“I think through the Wilkes-Barre series and then the Hartford series, they were two really hard-fought series. I know we swept Hartford, but it was a hard series,” defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk said. “It was really good to get some guys healed up and rested. I know there are some guys bumped up and bruised, so you take a few days for the body to rest and even the mind rest a little bit. Once we came back to work, it was all work. Stuttsy was on us hard. We have a really competitive group in our locker room, which is going to help us because throughout the whole week of practice we were battling really hard. We mixed in a day off throughout the week just to get away and stay fresh, I guess you could say. But once we came back, we were right at the video getting dialed in and battling against each other. So it’s going to be nice to have some different faces across from us.”
About those different faces: Manchester may not have ever faced the Utica Comets (AHL-Vancouver), but the playing fraternity breeds familiarity across all hockey leagues.
“I know a couple guys on their team, so it’ll be a fun battle,” Jordan Weal said.
Given that the Monarchs faced the Portland Pirates, their first round opponents, twice in the preseason and 12 times in the regular season prior to their five-game April playoff series, they’ll receive a little bit different of a look when facing Utica, the Western Conference’s top regular season team.
“We did a couple days of video, but I think it’s more doing what we do out there, being more concerned about how we’re playing,” Jeff Schultz said. “If we’re at the top of our game, there aren’t many teams that can play with us. I think we’re focusing on what we do out there rather than what they do.”
Manchester has scored in the first four minutes in eight of their 14 playoff games, so it’s not as if they’ve been plagued by poor starts.
“I think it’s just one of those things we’re focusing on playing a full 60 minutes and you’re going to get chances throughout a game and chances have just been coming, happening early in the game,” Weal said. “We’ve been capitalizing on them so far. Hopefully we can keep working hard and get a couple other ones.”
Jeff Schultz, on the approach to early shifts after a long layoff:
I think you just have to get involved as early as you can – either taking a hit, giving a hit, touching the puck, making a good pass – I think just getting your mind in it as quick as you can and I think the rest of that will just kind of come as the game goes.
Schultz, on why players have bought into Mike Stothers:
He holds everybody accountable. If it’s you first year in the league or your 10th year in the league, no matter how many games you’ve played, everybody is held accountable the same amount. I think that’s good. He doesn’t let guys cut corners or have nights off like that. He expects the most out of everybody every night and if you’re not playing up to expectations, you’ll hear about it.
Schultz, on whether their system is similar to the Kings’ system:
It is. You look at our forwards like O’Neill and Weal and guys like that, those are the guys that we want having the puck going into their zone because they’re generating plays and finding guys. It’s been that way all year and I think we’ll just continue that. I’m sure everybody’s excited for Game 1 tonight and they should be. We’ve worked hard all year to get here and the time has finally come for us.
Schultz, on whether it’s good to be playing in June again:
It is. I know you look at it last year and the whole year flew by, but it’s totally worth it.
Jordan Weal, on what has worked well with Brian O’Neill and Michael Mersch:
Just trying to work hard because that’s one of the only things in hockey you can control. There are a lot of variables in hockey that are out of your control. So if you can work hard and get pucks in deep and work our strengths, then we’re going to have the best chance for success.
Weal, on whether he anticipates an early feeling-out process:
You never know, but I know we’re going to focus on our game and we’re going to be ready and we’re going to play the way we know we can play and when we do that, we give ourselves the best chance to win. That’s all we can worry about.
Weal, on which aspects of his game have developed over the course of the season:
Just every part of my game, I think hockey is one of those things where you just have to try to get better every day. You’ve got to find one little thing and try to improve at it. At the end of the season, in the summer, you can reflect on what you gained and what you still need to continue to work on. I don’t think now is the time. I think now is the time to keep getting better and keep working on the game. In a couple months is the time to reflect.
Andrew Bodnarchuk, on how players’ relationships with Mike Stothers has developed:
Like you said, I was banged up at the start of the year which kind of allowed me to get to know him off the ice a little bit more. I was in the coach’s room here and there watching video with him and watching shirt and stuff throughout games and communicating with him about that stuff. Once I got back into the lineup, he’s a guy that expects the best but demands it in the right way. He’s respectful of the players, but at the same time he gets everything out of them. I think everyone really appreciates him as a coach and likes to buy into the way he does things. I think he’s good at communicating with everyone in their own way and getting the best out of the guys. I think since Day 1, the guys have responded really well to him and we’re excited to be going this far on the journey with him.
Bodnarchuk, on how defensemen moving the puck quickly has led to offense:
I’d like to take credit for what they do, but a lot of times we’re sitting and watching what these guys do, kid of in awe. But our job as defensemen is to get the puck out of our zone as quickly as possible and into the hands of our forwards, which are unbelievable forwards. I think we can pat ourselves on the back a little bit and say we have done that. We’ve got the puck in their hands and once it’s in their hands it’s kind of getting a support role for them and watching what they can do. We have some incredible guys up front and it’s been fun to watch.