The Manchester Monarchs, who had won eight consecutive playoff games, hit a crossroads seven minutes and 51 seconds into Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals. Having won a pair of home games in overtime – one in which they were the better team, one in a more even contest – they found themselves down 1-0, having lost regular season MVP Brian O’Neill to a bad hit on the game’s first shift and goaltender J-F Berube to a freak, lower-body injury away from the play in the first game at the raucous, intimate Utica Memorial Auditorium. Patrik Bartosak, who hadn’t played since April 19 and didn’t even dress in the first two games of the series as he contended with back spasms, was pressed into service. The Comets doubled their lead just over 10 minutes later.
From that point on, Manchester outscored Utica 10-5 – four of those goals were scored by 18-year-old Adrian Kempe – as Bartosak stopped 73 of the next 78 shots, a performance that included a clutch 31-save effort in the clinching 2-1 win Saturday night against the best effort the Comets had thrown at them in the series. The win, and the wire-to-wire run as regular season and postseason champions represented a team-wide effort, a mix of high skill, committed role players and checkers, two capable goaltenders, and above all an accumulation of character that generated the first, and last, Calder Cup championship to cap off the Monarchs’ 14-year AHL run.
Not very many people are able to say they’ve won a championship in their lifetime, so to be able to do it with this group of guys, I’m best friends with every single one of ‘em,” captain Vincent LoVerde said. “It’s amazing. I’m happy for these guys and proud of these guys.”
In addition to the emotion Calder Cup MVP Jordan Weal showed on the ice immediately after the Game 5 win, and the pride of the team’s ascension articulated by Head Coach Mike Stothers, I also spoke with LoVerde, forwards Michael Mersch and Nic Dowd, and defenseman Derek Forbort while the champagne and beer flowed both inside and outside the dressing room. It’s an interesting glimpse of the immediate aftermath of a championship season.