MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Manchester Monarchs needed a big win Friday night to set the tone for the final two weeks of the season. Unfortunately for the Adirondack Thunder, the Monarchs were successful in this endeavor. The visitors found themselves scoreless at the end of the night, with Manchester taking the 5-0 decision at the SNHU.
The Monarchs (40-20-3-2) picked up their seventh win in a row, on the back of a strong shutout performance by Evan Cowley. They also found a solid offensive effort, led by Spencer Watson, which at one point saw two goals scored in just 11 seconds. Adirondack (37-22-3-4) had an excellent offensive effort with 34 shots, but could not solve Cowley.
Watson kicked off the scoring for the Monarchs at 10:08 of the opening frame. After serving a two-minute sentence for slashing, Watson skated out of the box and picked up the pass from Jake Wood on the fly, gliding into the Thunder zone and cutting in front of the crease to beat Olivier Mantha on the backhand and make it 1-0 for the home team.
A mere 11 seconds later, Matt Schmalz would double the Monarchs’ lead at 10:19 of the first. After taking a feed from captain David Kolomatis, Schmalz shot down the left side of the ice, juking a Thunder defenseman and moving on Mantha, putting the puck between the pads of the Adirondack goaltender, making it 2-0.
The scoring would continue in the second period when Watson picked up his second of the night at 7:00. With the Monarchs on the power-play, Alexx Privitera picked up the rebound after a Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman shot. Privy saw Watson at the post, sending him the puck, and Watson buried it to make the score 3-0 for the Monarchs.
It would be Michael Doherty who made it 4-0 at 8:08 of the third period. Doherty took control of the puck in the neutral zone and went on a 2-on-oh break with Schmalz. Mantha buckled under the pressure, and Doherty put the puck over the blocker to light the lamp.
The final goal would come at 11:25 of the third, at the hand of rookie Ryan Lough. Receiving a pass from Keegan Iverson as he crossed into the Thunder end, Lough made his move into the slot and fired a wrister between Mantha’s leg to close out the scoring at 5-0 for Manchester.
The Monarchs came into this weekend with Adirondack nipping at their heels, and they needed a win to take a little pressure off of themselves and successfully put themselves in position to win the North outright. From Adirondack’s perspective, the decisive loss was a real punch in the mouth to the Thunder, and the gauntlet is officially thrown down. It will be interesting to see if Adirondack will respond. Mantha looked outmatched by the Monarchs, who scored their five goals on just 24 shots. Thunder starter Drew Fielding will likely give Manchester a bit more of a challenge tonight; he has gone 2-1-1-0 against the Monarchs this season. With a win, the Monarchs will officially clinch their playoff spot, put them at least five points ahead of second-place Adirondack, and put themselves in prime position to take the divisional title. Even one point will put them in the playoffs but will make their position a little shakier for winning the North. They have about as much momentum as they could ask for, coming off seven straight victories and a huge win over their rivals. If they can carry it over for one more win, the Monarchs will be sitting pretty. This team has overcome no small amount of difficulty this year. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a fight.
Friday’s victory came without three of the Monarchs’ top five scorers, with Zac Lynch, Joel Lowry, and Colton Saucerman all on loans to AHL squads. As has been the case all year, they’ve relied on players to step up when it counts. Once again, they found contributions from a wide array of players.
Last night’s victory was Cowley’s fourth straight win. The Monarchs’ backup has had his ups and downs this season but has come into his own over this last stretch, with only 1.50 goals-against and .953 save percentage over this recent stretch. Having a reliable backup is a goal for any team, especially with a playoff run looming. Cowley is beginning to jell into a solid piece of this team.
Speaking of streaks, Smotherman is now on his longest point-scoring streak of the season at seven games and his assist was point number 70 for the veteran.
Lough has been with the team since March 15th, but this was the first action he’s seen, and he capitalized on his opportunity. The 24-year-old winger joins the team fresh off of his final season with the Saints of St. Lawrence University. Lough played 37 games with the Saints while wearing the A, picking up six goals and eight assists. So far, he’s considerably outstripping his collegiate pace with the Monarchs.
Ashton Rome picked up 25 penalty minutes in the game, making his total with the Monarchs 39 minutes in just six games. He had only 41 in 30 games with the Railers before joining Manchester in a trade for Justin Agosta. Perhaps his toughness is what coach Seeley brought him over for, but seems out of place on a team where skilled play has been the mantra from day one. Rome has one goal since arriving, though – which is nice, I guess.
Potentially the biggest game of the year for the Monarchs happens tonight, as the Adirondack Thunder look to keep themselves in the postseason hunt. Puck drops at 6 pm at the SNHU.