The Manchester Monarchs can be thought of as a new, yet old team in the American Hockey League. Several of the players who make up the roster of one of the AHL’s expansion franchises could be found on the previous affiliate squad to the Los Angeles Kings, the Lowell Lock Monsters. Some of the familiar faces on the team this season are Richard Seeley, Joe Rullier, Greg Phillips, Mike Pudlick, and Chris Schmidt. The Kings moved out and into a brand-spanking new home about 25 miles north of its former abode, and the Carolina Hurricanes’ top minor league affiliate took up residence in the old place.
The Monarchs’ home opener is still three weeks away, but the folks who follow the team are still excited about having a New Hampshire-based team to cheer on. Fans got their first glimpse of the inside of the Verizon Wireless Arena on Tuesday, October 23, 2001, when they invaded the still-under-construction arena for the season ticket pick-up gathering. The Monarchs players were in attendance, giving fans the opportunity to meet the boys in purple, white and gold, get autographs and pictures, and chat.
Because their home rink won’t be available until mid-November, the Monarchs embarked on a 14-game road trip to start the season. Having played half of those games, things look a bit grim. They’ve played the currently undefeated Lowell Lock Monsters team twice, and have been handed defeat in both contests, losing 6-3 in the season opener (October 5th), then 4-3 last weekend (October 20th). They played back-to-back games against the Norfolk Admirals, the first of which ended in a 3-3 deadlock on October 12th, and the second providing the Monarchs with their first victory of this young season. The Monarchs suffered a 4-3 loss to the Portland Pirates on October 18th, but emerged victorious over another expansion team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 5-2, on October 19th. Another setback came the Monarchs’ way on October 24th when they succumbed to last season’s Eastern Conference champions, the Worcester IceCats, by a score of 6-2.
Although he missed the first game of the season for the Monarchs, Randy Robitaille, who signed with the Kings over the summer as a free agent, was reassigned to Manchester five days after the regular season began, and has been a prime force for the club despite the struggles they’ve encountered. He leads the team in scoring with 7 goals and 10 points, and also heads the list for shots on goal with 36. Dane Jackson isn’t far behind (2+6=8) and Derek Bekar is hot on Jackson’s heels (3+4=7) and is chasing Robitaille in shots on goal (27). Tomas Zizka, the Kings’ 6th round pick in the 1998, leads the team in +/- with a +4 rating after have played 6 games. There are three goaltenders shuffling about in and around Manchester, but one of them is getting the bulk of the games. Stephane Fiset, assigned to the Monarchs by the Kings the afternoon of opening night, has started 5 of the 7 games played, with a GAA of 3.63 and a .893 save percentage. Marcel Cousineau has started 1 game and replaced Fiset in another, but hasn’t fare much better in the GAA department, sporting a 3.63 GAA himself. His save percentage is the best of the three netminders (.911). Travis Scott has also started 1 game, but he gave up 4 goals on 24 shots by the Portland Pirates and is left with a 4.13 GAA and .833 save percentage.
It’s difficult to be on the road for such a long time, but it does give the players a chance to get to know the newcomers and re-acquaint themselves with guys they’ve played with in seasons past. As with any squad, there’s a period of jelling that needs to take place; and the Manchester Monarchs are on their way to becoming a cohesive 19-man unit that is ready and raring to take on any opponent that comes their way.
Friday, November 2 @ Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 8:05pm
Saturday, November 3 @ Springfield Falcons, 7:30pm
Thursday, November 8 @ Cleveland Barons, 7:05pm
Saturday, November 10 @ Hershey Bears, 7:00pm