Note: This is the second of a three-part "In the System" series this week at LAKings.com. On Thursday as part of the Daryl's Development series, Daryl Evans will take a look at Monarchs goalie Martin Jones.
The Manchester Monarchs, American Hockey League affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, open their 2012-13 regular season Friday at Providence. Coming off an 83-point season and second place finish in the Atlantic Division last season, the Monarchs are once again primed to make some noise in a very competitive AHL this season. LAKings.com had a chance to discuss the upcoming campaign with Monarchs head coach Mark Morris.
Morris, is entering his seventh season with Manchester and is the winningest and most tenured coach in team history with 253 regular season wins, 22 playoff victories and 476 regular season games coached. Manchester’s bench boss led his squad to the Eastern Conference Final of the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2007 and 2010 and was selected to coach the PlanetUSA All-Star team at the 2010 AHL All-Star Classic.
LAKings.com: The Monarchs just concluded the preseason with a perfect 3-0-0 record. How do you feel about your team’s performance heading into Opening Night Friday at Providence?
Morris: I am very pleased with the progress that I’ve seen with a lot of skilled players. In the three exhibition games, I think we’ve had excellent execution, and the guys seem to be picking up the Kings’ system quickly, and that’s very encouraging for our staff.
LAKings.com: Which players do you see taking their play to the next level this season?
Morris: That’s a tough question. I think everybody has a different development rate, and not everybody turns the corner at the same rate, so I would think that some of the veteran players that have had an opportunity to show their stuff thus far have really benefitted by the whole process. If Jake Muzzin can continue to play the way he has in the last exhibition game, that’s a real good sign for the organization. Jordan Nolan continues to play well and has made huge strides toward becoming a regular with the Kings. Andrei Loktionov has come [to camp] in unbelievable shape and continues to excel at this level, so I’m hopeful that they are able to continue on that path and reach for the next level on the ladder.
LAKings.com: What does it mean to have players on a team that won a Stanley Cup with the Kings last season?
Morris: I think it’s been a great experience having old teammates reconnect, especially with the notion that these guys have been down the same path that others have yet to follow. So I think it validates the system that they’re in and the work that’s been done.
LAKings.com: What are your expectations for the upcoming season?
Morris: It’s really hard to know. I haven’t seen the rest of the league, but obviously with the influx of NHLers that have come back to the American [Hockey] League, it’s going to make for a highly competitive league. I think it’s good that some of those younger players are now having a chance to really showcase their talents with increased playing time. They’ll see more minutes and are playing with more confidence having the experiences of already playing in the NHL.
LAKings.com: What do you see as your toughest challenge heading into the season?
Morris: Without a doubt, it’s going to be playing time. We’re a deep team right now. It’s going to be like splitting hairs as to who’s in and who’s out. And I dare say most of these guys that are young pros have never sat a game in their lives. It’s going to put some strain on how they view fairness and what the right thing is to do. So I know it’s going to be a tough job and I’m sure I’ll be confiding with management trying to balance it out, but winning is always a challenge, and now it’s even tougher.
LAKings.com: Which teams do you see as your toughest opponents this season?
Morris: I think the veteran teams are always the toughest teams to play for us. They’re bigger bodies, they’re older. Traditionally, it’s the Hershey [Bears], the Wilkes-Barre Scranton [Penguins] – a lot of the teams that are in hunt for the Calder Cup every year. We basically got guys that aren’t much older than teenagers knocking heads with guys who are almost 30 years old in some cases, so it’s a great challenge for our kids to try and compete with those older players. We try to instill an underdog mentality in hopes that we can play with more energy, more spirit and try to break their will.
LAKings.com: As the winningest coach in Monarchs History, what do the Monarchs and the city of Manchester mean to you?
Morris: Well, it’s a home away from home for me. Lots of friends here. The businesses, the sponsors and the fans have been a wonderful group of people to associate with. They give great support and encouragement. They’re respectful, and I think they’re now realizing that even though Manchester’s ultimate goal is to win the Calder Cup, I think that Luc Robitaille bringing the Stanley Cup to the city of Manchester goes miles toward validating what we do. We are an organization that is committed to development and we’re not going to compromise that for the sake of the Kings. We’re in a position where we have to get guys up over the fence and we’re trying our darndest to make sure that happens.
For more information on the Monarchs, visit the team on-line at www.manchestermonarchs.com.