MANCHESTER, NH – The Manchester Monarchs capped off an impressive December and finished the year off right with a home victory over the Worcester Railers on Sunday night at the SNHU.

The Monarchs (21-10-1-1) picked up their third straight win over the Railers (12-13-2-2) after the weekend home-and-home sweep of their newest division rivals. Sunday night saw the Monarchs take a 4-2 decision in a game that literally came down to the final minute, dressed to the nines and winning in style.

After the first period where the Monarchs doubled up their opponents in the shots column, it was Worcester that would kick off the scoring at 2:31 of the second period. Kellen Jones took a shot that was stopped by Monarchs’ tender Charles Williams, but it was former Providence Friar Nick Saracino who would pick up the rebound and stuff it past Williams to give Worcester a 1-0 lead.

The lead would hold until 11:00 of the second, when Michael Doherty picked up a pass from Alexx Privitera on the rush, one-timing the puck past Worcester goaltender Mitch Gillam to make it 1-1. Doherty has been particularly effective against the Railers this season, as this was goal number five for the forward against Worcester. (Spoiler alert: he wasn’t done.)

Manchester took the lead at 13:23 of the middle frame when Monarchs’ goals leader Zac Lynch picked up his 16th of the year. Doherty fired on goal and was stoned by Gillam, who lost track of the rebound. Lynch, ever helpful, found the puck for him and potted it into the cage to make it 2-1 Monarchs.

It would be 12:51 of the third before the Railers came back to make a game of it. Worcester goals leader Patrick McNally would add to his total while skating 4-on-4, receiving a pass from defenseman Ben Masella and skating to the circle. He took the wrist shot from there that beat Williams’ blocker to tie things up at two apiece.

It was a tense game from that point forward, with both teams probing the other’s defense and with Gillam making some particularly impressive saves to keep his squad in the game. However, it would be Matt Schmalz who would take the game for the Monarchs at 19:34 of the third. Muscling the puck from the Railers during a battle on the boards, Schmalz drove to the net and tried to power it past Gillam. Gillam held at first, but Schmalz found his own rebound and put it past the goalie’s skate to make it 3-2 Monarchs. A half-ice empty-netter from Doherty would seal the deal at 19:53 to make it 4-2 final.

The Takeaway – It was a closer game than the final score would indicate, and all credit for the Railers has to go to Gillam, who made some highlight reel saves throughout the game to keep the score as low as it was. For their part, the Monarchs’ defense was stalwart from buzzer to buzzer, holding the anemic Railers offense to single-digit shot totals in two out of three periods. Also worth noting was the discipline of the Monarchs, who allowed not a single power-play for Worcester and only committed one penalty all night. That certainly helps to stifle the offensive opportunities, especially from a team which sits second-to-last in Goals For. Williams had yet another solid night in the net, picking up his 13th win of the season. Craig Wyszomirski had another quietly good night, picking up two secondary assists. All told, the Monarchs went 10-3 in the month of December which, while not quite as good as last year, was enough to pull them into a clear lead in the North, holding eight points over the Adirondack Thunder. As tight as things have been in the division (excluding Worcester, the other four teams are within five points of one another) having a bit of a cushion can’t possibly hurt. The Monarchs have continued to impress in the face of call-ups and injuries. Give coaches Seeley and Giuliano props for plugging the holes as they come.

Notes – Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman leads all active Monarchs in points (Joel Lowry is currently on assignment with the Utica Comets) and picked up an assist against the Railers Sunday. The veteran forward has been an important leader for this young squad.

Speaking of veteran leadership, Ashton Rome continued to terrorize his former team with two assists on the night, and three in two games against Manchester over the weekend. That puts his totals just against the Monarchs at 4 goals and 4 assists. On the season as a whole: 6 goals, 8 assists. By comparison, Doherty has 6 goals and 2 assists against the Railers, with totals of 8 and 13 on the year.

With an assist Sunday, captain David Kolomatis is now two points away from moving into a tie for second all-time in scoring for the Monarchs. Former favorites Brandon Kozun and Gabe Gauthier are currently involved with the tie, at 179 points apiece. You’d have to go back to 2007 to find the guy sitting on top: La Verne, California’s own Noah Clarke, who racked up 199 points in 267 games with Manchester between 2003-2007.

In other former Monarchs’ news: one-time AHL scoring leader and MVP Brian O’Neill is on his way to South Korea to represent team USA in the Pyeongchang Olympics next month. The pride of Yardley, PA currently plays for Helsinki Jokerit of the KHL, where he has 25 points in 32 games.

The Monarchs return to action Wednesday, January 3rd when they take on the Adirondack Thunder in Glens Falls to kick off a three-game road trip. Puck drops at 7:00 pm EST.

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