WORCESTER, Mass. – The Manchester Monarchs halted their losing streak at six games and solidified home-ice advantage in the first round by defeating the Worcester Railers in the final game of the regular season Sunday afternoon at the DCU Center. The Monarchs secured second place in the North Division, ceding the division title to the Adirondack Thunder by one point after leading the North for months.
The Monarchs (41-25-3-3) were looking for revenge after a very sudden loss to the Railers (37-27-4-4) on Saturday night at the SNHU. They found it on the road in the regular season finale, bolstered by a solid shutout effort by goaltender Evan Cowley, who turned aside 24 shots. The win helped them to end the season on a positive note, going into a first-round showdown with the Reading Royals starting on Friday, April 13th.
After a first period which saw the shots end at 7-4 in favor of the Monarchs, the visitors would start off the scoring at 16:08 of the second period. Finding the puck loose in the corner, Zac Lynch would direct the pass to the returning Sam Kurker, who was waiting in the slot. Kurker put the puck on net and beat Railers’ tender Will King on the gloveside to make it 1-0.
The teams would hold defensively after that, as that would be all until 18:39 of the third period. With King pulled to give Worcester the extra man in the dying minutes. Receiving the puck from Martin Nemcik, it would be Michael Doherty who took the shot on the empty net from just inside the Monarchs’ defensive zone. The 175’ shot found the back of the cage to put the insurance goal up on the board, and making the final score 2-0 Monarchs.
The Takeaway – This was a necessary win for the Monarchs for a few reasons. First of all, it kept them in the top half of the playoff seeding, which ensures them home-ice advantage in round one. It also prevented them from heading into the playoffs on a seven-game losing streak, which is much better for morale. Getting that monkey off of their backs is an important step in building a successful playoff run. That being said, it’s hard to look at the final standings and realize that one point was the only thing standing between the Monarchs and the division title.
That being said, that chip on the shoulder might just be the motivation they need to make a deep run. Two years ago, the Monarchs won the division, but were bounced in the first round by the Thunder in four games. Last season, the Monarchs finished fourth in the North, then got their revenge on the Thunder en route to an Eastern Conference Final showdown with the South Carolina Stingrays. So, while the accolades would have been nice to have, the Monarchs aren’t as interested in a “division champions” banner as they are a “Kelly Cup Champions” banner. They’ll have to get through the Royals first, however. No easy task… but that’s a discussion for another column.
Notes – This was Cowley’s second shutout of the season, leaving him with a regular season record of 9-9-0-1. Not great, but okay. Cowley will likely be expected to pick up some playoff starts in an extended playoff run. Here’s hoping he’s up for the challenge.
The Monarchs only had two penalties, and they were both fighting. Keeping the Railers off of the power-play certainly contributed to the shutout. Keeping the Royals off of the power-play, where they’re converting at 16%, will be a key to success in round one.
This was Kurker’s first game back with the Monarchs since February 11th, and his first goal since December 30th. The Boston native has 29 points in 35 games, and his stick will help take some of the scoring pressure off of Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman going forward. It’s good to have him back.
In end-of-season-awards news: Colton Saucerman was awarded with the Booster Club Award on Saturday night, while Charles Williams received the Union Leader Fan Favorite Award. David Kolomatis was awarded for his community service by the Monarchs Care Foundation, and Doherty was selected as the Unsung Hero by his teammates. In addition, Smotherman was named to the ECHL First Team.
Round one of the Kelly Cup Playoffs begin for the Monarchs on Friday, April 13th against the Reading Royals. The puck drops at 7:00 pm EDT at the SNHU.