MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Manchester Monarchs’ season has come to an end and fittingly, it came at the hands of their perennial rivals, the Adirondack Thunder. The two teams have taken turns eliminating one another from the playoffs for the last three seasons, and it seems the Thunder decided to take their turn after all.
It was a season of ups and downs, with the Monarchs riding high through January, before struggling late and giving up the North Division lead in the last weekend of the regular season. They appeared to be bouncing back, putting together an impressive first-round sweep of the Reading Royals in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. But the victories came at a cost, with the Monarchs playing five overtimes in three games, racking up the on-ice minutes for the entire squad, and riding impressive performances from goaltender Charles Williams the whole way.
And despite the extra rest, as the Thunder’s series against the Railers went six games deep, the attrition on the squad showed in the second round. The physical play was not up to the level of the first round, the defense had some unfortunate lapses, and Williams seemed to have lost his mojo. It was an unfortunate end for a promising team that had some great moments this season.
So, instead of dwelling on the negative, let’s take a look back at some positives. As the Monarchs wrap up their third season in the ECHL, it’s important to recognize some truly great performances from this past season, and what Monarchs fans can hopefully look forward to in the future.
Most Obvious Accolade:
Let’s get this out of the way early, because it would be impossible to say anything about this season for the Monarchs without giving big props to Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman. His 72-point performance was good enough for fourth in the league this season, and if you’re curious, the previous team high in the ECHL-era was Maxim Kitsyn’s 55 points in 2015-16. That didn’t even crack the top 20 for that season. So it’s safe to say that Smotherman was the catalyst of the offensive effort this year. Stick taps to “Smo,” who signed to play in Germany on May 30.
Best Rookie Skater:
After a lot of thought, this one is going in two directions. On the one hand, we have Spencer Watson, the 22-year-old phenom who joined the squad during the Utah trip and lit up opposing defenses to the tune of 25 goals and 20 assists in 48 games. Watson was a danger to score on every shift and is clearly a talented young player who has a future in this sport. However, he is also contracted to the LA Kings, a team whose relationship with the Monarchs has been practically nonexistent since the Ontario Reign became their AHL affiliate, and it’s rather unlikely that he returns to Manchester next season. In that vein, honors also go to Michael Doherty, another offensively skilled player who picked up 44 points this season (20 G – 24 A) in 68 games with the team. Doherty has a gutsy style, and meshed well with whatever line combination he found himself on. And, even better, his contract was with the Monarchs this season. There’s a good shot to see him back in silver and black next season, where he’ll likely be taking on more of a leadership role going forward.
The Roger Waters Wall Award:
Sam Brittain carried a heavy load for the Monarchs in 2016-17 between the pipes and had a platoon of backups behind him that either didn’t stick or moved up to the Reign. Enter Williams, a recent graduate of Canisius College, who took over the backup backstop role at the very end of the regular season. He went 3-0 with a 2.33 GAA, a .919 save percentage and looked like a promising young goaltender.
He fulfilled that promise this season, taking over as the starter full time, and at one point held top-three numbers in both goals-against and save percentage. He then went on to put up a historic first-round performance against the Royals, but the minutes took an obvious toll going into round two. Williams had never played that many minutes in such a short stretch, it happens. It would be ridiculous to put any blame on him or any of these guys for the way things went down in these playoffs. In the end, it was good to have him in Manchester, and if he finds a new home next season, who are we to do anything but wish him all the best? Congrats on a great season, Charles.
Picture this: The Monarchs are down 5-2 at home to the last-place Brampton Beast. They’ve had ten shots in the first two periods, combined. It’s coming up on 11 minutes left to play in the third. Things do not look good. Then, at 8:59 of the third, some hope. Eric Schurhamer picks up his first goal of the season. Then another: Smotherman sets up Watson for his second goal of the night at 12:14. But then, disaster: Matt Schmalz gets called for closing his hand on the puck at 18:05, effectively killing the comeback.
Or maybe not. Colton Saucerman would connect with Smo, who carried a defender into the Brampton end and buried the puck past Carmine Guerrero, shorthanded, to tie the game with 33 seconds to go. The writing was on the wall at that point, the air had been completely sucked out of the Beast, and Watson would put the capper on his hat-trick to win the game at 2:49 of OT. Four unanswered goals in 13 minutes to win a game that was all but lost? It proved what a force this team was when they clicked. That never-say-die attitude prevailed for the entire season, and defined this squad, even when they hit the skids in March and April.
Best Record Chaser:
Captain David Kolomatis has been guiding this team through the ECHL phase from day one, and was a fixture on the squad during a stretch of the AHL phase, as well. All, told, he has played 403 games in parts of seven seasons with the lion logo on his chest. He has already taken the all-time franchise assists lead and is on the verge of taking over the top spot in games played and total points. It is the opinion of the court that he should come back for one more year, to solidify his place in this team’s history. Further, Kolomatis has helped lead three successful squads; one more shouldn’t be too big an ask.
A few late mentions before we end: Saucerman and Craig Wyszomirski helped to lead the defensive squad this year, and are both fan favorites who deserve recognition. Zac Lynch had a breakout season, cracking 40 points this season for the first time in his professional career, and led the team in points for the playoffs with 10. The tandem of Schmalz and Matt Marcinew provided a spark nearly every time they hit the ice. And, of course, we should recognize the coaching pair of Rich Seeley and Jeff Giuliano. They have effectively led this team for three seasons, and now coach Seeley is moving on to be the general manager for the Ontario Reign. Here’s wishing them both the best in their future endeavors.
It was another season of monumental highs and crushing lows for the Monarchs, and while it ended on a sour note, there’s always hope for the future in Manchester. Over the course of the summer, keep an eye out for more updates, analysis, and previews as the offseason action rolls on in the Queen City.