MANCHESTER, NH – After a five-day respite, the Manchester Monarchs will return to action Friday night, to take on the Jacksonville Icemen for the first time in franchise history. It’s the kickoff of a brutal November stretch that sees them play 10 games in 16 days, including a far-flung road trip to Utah for three throwdowns with the Grizzlies.
But first, the Icemen, a newly revived franchise who the Monarchs have never faced in any iteration. Formerly known as the Evansville Icemen, Jacksonville became their new home after a tumultuous process which saw the team miss out on the 2016-17 season. The ECHL affiliates of the Winnipeg Jets call the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena their home, a building the Monarchs will finally see the inside of on December 13th.
The Icemen are in the midst of a week-long road trip that has seen them make stops in South Carolina and Ontario, Canada before finding their way to SNHU arena for the Friday night contest. Jacksonville has struggled so far this season, sitting in seventh place in the South Division after six games, with a record of 1-4-1. They finally achieved their first win on Tuesday in a decisive way, blanking the Brampton Beast 5-0 in an effort that saw goals from five different players and eight different men score points.
Cracking that first win will likely be much-needed motivation for the southern squad, which will see its next five games against some of the more successful teams in the league: Manchester, Reading, South Carolina, and Florida. They’ll certainly be looking to follow up on their success against Brampton, but any win in this stretch will be hard-fought, to say the least.
If there’s one positive you can find in the Icemen’s season, it’s that they’ve kept every loss close. Only one of their five losses came by more than one goal, and even that was only a two-goal loss to the Stingrays which ended with an empty-netter. Their penalty kill has also been pretty successful, with the Jacksonville effort fending off the power-play at an 87.9% rate. This will come in handy, at least, against a rather anemic Manchester power-play. However, if Manchester’s power-play is anemic, Jacksonville’s is downright DOA: the Icemen have converted just 3.4% of their chances.
The Icemen have been represented in goal by keeper Jamie Phillips in all of their games so far. He has faced an average of 31.6 shots per game and has a 3.51 goals against average with an .889 save percentage and (obviously) a 1-4-1 record so far. He spent last season with the Tulsa Oilers, where he played admirably: 19-10-2 with a 2.63/.913 spread, and one shutout, a total he has already matched as of Wednesday night. Defensively, Jacksonville has managed to keep the shot totals down rather well: they’ve allowed over 40 shots only once, and only twice over 35. While this formula hasn’t translated into wins, theoretically it should, in the long run. Whether this stingy defense will stop the relentless Monarchs offense remains to be seen, and could be the difference between a win or loss for Jacksonville.
Offensively, the Icemen have been led by Alexandre Goulet, a 21-year-old forward from Thetford Mines, Quebec. Goulet has an impressive 10 points in six games, on five goals and five assists. Close behind him are Bobby MacIntyre (4 G, 4 A), Elgin Pearce (2 G, 5 A), and Emerson Clark (1 G, 6 A), the younger of Jacksonville’s Clark brothers. All four of these men are averaging more than a point-per-game so far, but after that there is a precipitous dropoff in production. Locking down these key players will be an important piece of the puzzle for the Monarchs.
This is exactly the sort of game that the Monarchs need to win if this season is going to be successful. With four upcoming games against the Worcester Railers, who so far have had the Monarchs’ number, plus one each against Reading and the Adirondack Thunder, the Monarchs can’t afford to lose a game to the worst team in the ECHL. With Jacksonville’s power-play being what it is, the Monarchs shouldn’t be so worried about being one of the most penalized teams in the league. That being said, this would be a good time to hone some discipline before their brutal stretch against more dangerous teams. It will also be interesting to see if the high-octane Monarchs attack can stand up after their long break. What happens in this game will set the table for the next stretch, though it will be more devastating to lose than it would be uplifting to win.
Manchester will play five of their next six games at the SNHU, though home hasn’t been so friendly for the Monarchs. They’re currently 1-2 at home, including a shutout by Worcester on home-opener night. They’ll be looking to turn that around, but it won’t come without a tough fight against division rivals. The next two weeks will show just how serious a contender the Monarchs will really be this year.
Sometime between Wednesday and now, Tony Cameranesi was credited with an assist that he hadn’t been previously, making him Manchester’s new scoring leader.
Puck drop Friday night is 7 pm at the SNHU.
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