|Mark Morris has led the Monarchs to the Calder Cup Eastern Conference finals for the second time in franchise history.
The Manchester Monarchs and the Hershey Bears find themselves in a déjà vu of sorts as they battle in the Calder Cup Eastern Conference Final for the second time in franchise history. The first meeting came in May of 2007 and did not end in favor of the Monarchs. Hershey swept Manchester in four straight games. Although the 2007 Monarchs advanced farther than they ever had in the team's history, they were not satisfied with the early exit from the conference final.
This season, the Monarchs look for redemption. It will be a hard fought battle as the Bears finished the regular season atop the AHL's leader board with a record of 60-17-0-3 and 123 points. Manchester, however, is used to being the underdog as they swept the Atlantic Division's No. 2 seed, the Portland Pirates, in four straight games and then knocked out the division's No. 1 seed, the Worcester Sharks, in six games.
The Monarchs may be young and inexperienced compared to the Bears but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"I think that being young is sometimes good," explains Monarchs Captain Drew Bagnall. "We know we're underdogs but at the same time, we don't really know that we're suppose to lose. We know we have to work hard. The pressure is all on them. I think that we have a good group of guys that play for one another so that's the biggest thing we're coming into this with is that we have to rely on each other and just play the way we can."
Hershey only lost four games in regulation at the Giant Center this season. However, one of those games was to the Monarchs.
"Well, I hope (the Monarchs) realize the position they're in," says Monarchs Head Coach Mark Morris. "Hershey is a beatable team. You take a look in the rafters there and you realize that they have a storied history and I hope our guys realize there's an opportunity to knock off a real good team and put ourselves up another rung on the ladder. We can be very good when we all contribute and are focused."
Both the Monarchs and Bears have already battled their way through their respective divisions this post-season and look to continue to work hard and battle every night.
"I think timely goals and just the fact that Bernie's (Jonathan Bernier
) been so unbelievable for us," Bagnall says in reference to the Monarchs success thus far in the playoffs. "We rely on him a lot. We give up shots from the outside just because we know we can. By doing that, we kind of eliminate their Grade-A chances from the slot and those great scoring areas. When Bernie's on his game, and you know when he is, he has that focus and that really helps us."
In relation to the stellar play of Monarchs goaltender Jonathan Bernier
, Bears Head Coach Mark French's response is, "I hear a lot of talk about Jonathan Bernier
, and he's a very good goalie. But there hasn't been a lot of talk about the guy who was the Calder Cup MVP last year sitting in our net (Michal Neuvirth). I think it will be a good goaltender battle, (Bernier) had a very good year, but we've got the utmost confidence in our goaltending. I think it will be a good series through and through."
So what do the Monarchs have to do to knock off the top team in the AHL?
"It's going to be hard work," explains Bagnall. "It's going to be sticking to our structure and making sure we get pucks deep behind them and making them skate the full 200 feet to try to get to our net.
"And keeping them to the outside. They have a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net and we know that so we need everyone to play defense on the ice. It can't be just a few guys and we can't rely on Bernie to make big saves all night. Maybe a few timely ones I'm sure but we've got to just make sure we play well defensively."