|John Zeiler (photo: Dan Hickling)|
There isn't much room at the top of the Atlantic Division. Just one division leader at a time, thank you.
But there are two teams – the Manchester Monarchs and the Portland Pirates – fighting it out for supremacy, and with three weeks remaining to duke it out, it seems as though the Northern New Englandrivals will be doing just that right until the end.
Notice of that was served on Sunday when, 48 hours after surrendering the division lead to the Pirates, the Monarchs strolled into Portland and seized it back – for now, at least – with a 4-2 win.
In doing so, Manchester accomplished what had been heretofore next to impossible: handing the Pirates – owners of an AHL best 23-5-5 home record – a regulation loss in the aging Cumberland County Civic Center.
And hauling themselves back from a 2-0 first period hole, to boot.
“They're a great team,” said Monarchs center John Zeiler, whose second-period goal knotted the score, 2-2. “It's going to be a battle down the stretch. We both have good teams. It's going to come down to screening goalies, dirty goals. That's the difference in the game.”
It was in Sunday’s game, as Jordan Nolan's game-winner with 5:38 to play was decidedly of the tip-in variety, one that Pirates goalie David Leggio never saw.
“If you let him see pucks,” said Zeiler, “he's going to stop them all night.”
The two teams have developed one of the better rivalries in the AHL, which explains in part the brief but angry exchange during the pre-game skate between Portland's Dennis McCauley and Justin Johnson of the Monarchs.
“The game had a buzz to it,” said Pirates bench boss Kevin Dineen. “We just have to focus in the right way. They've got guys who play just two or three shifts who are out there for one reason. We got caught in that, and that's losing your focus.”
As the week unfolded, Manchester with 88 points held a slim, one-point lead over the Pirates. On the other hand, Portland has played four fewer games, but with 40 regulation wins has already equaled the Monarchs in that department, which is the first standings tie-breaker should one be needed at the end of the season.
The teams meet twice more – once in each venue – before the end of the season.
Around the AHL
With a newly-signed, two-year extension of their DCU Center lease agreement in hand, the Worcester Sharks announced that they will host the second annual MHSCA All-Star Game on March 27 at noon. “The Worcester Sharks are excited to host this one-of-a-kind event,” said team president Michael Mudd. “We are proud to be a part of the MSHCA All-Star Game and be able to bring together some of the best high school hockey talent in one place for a terrific exhibition.” Teams will be made up of the top senior high school players from around Massachusetts, divided into North and South squads. Last year's inaugural game was hosted by the now defunct Lowell Devils. … As college and junior teams begin to wrap up their seasons, players are starting to find their way into the AHL on amateur tryout deals. Among the first to sign was UMass-Lowell forward Scott Campbell, who has hooked on with the Houston Aeros. … Former P-Bruins forward Joe Colborne, recently dispatched to Torontoin the Tomas Kaberle deal, suffered a concussion following a blindside blow dished out by Eric Selleck of the Rochester Americans. Selleck was handed a four-game AHL ban for his actions. Colborne will be out indefinitely.
Dan Hickling can be reached at email@example.com.