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PACIFIC DIVISION SHOOTOUT REVIEW

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings

While most of the Kings scouts and coaches viewed this year's Pacific Diviaion Shootout from afar, the responsibility of leading the Kings team fell squarely on the shoulders of Manchester Monarchs Head Coach Mark Morris.

As a former Kings prospect himself, Morris could feel a certain connection with the squad of youngsters.

"I signed with the Kings in 1981 coming out of Colgate University and played in New Haven of the American Hockey League," Morris said, after the Kings lost in overtime of Tuesday night's championship game against the Phoenix Coyotes. "Bernie Nicholls and Daryl Evans were actually teammates of mine then and Don Perry was my first head coach."

"This tournament didn't happen for me as a player, but it was a lot of fun and a big treat to be a part of this as a coach."

As a prospect, Morris never played for the Kings or in the NHL. However he liked what he saw this past week from the many youngsters who the Kings hope will play a large part of the team's future.

"We saw the kids this week come a long way in just a short amount of time," Morris said late Tuesday night. "They are adjusting to the system and the effort was superb. We played extremely hard. Unfortunately, Phoenix got a lucky bounce right to a guys stick and that was the difference in the game."

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After the Kings won their first two contests, Friday night against the Ducks 6-5 and Saturday night against the Sharks 3-2, Monday's scheduled game against Phoenix (the Coyotes were also 2-0) was going to be meaningless in terms of crowning a champion, since the Kings and Phoenix had already advanced to the finals.

A decision was made on Sunday afternoon to turn the two-game series into a championship double-header. After the Kings lost to Phoenix on Monday by a score of 4-2, they needed a win tonight to force a special 10-minute overtime period.

Goals by L.A.'s Anze Kopitar, Ned Lukacevic and Matt Moulson helped catapult the Kings to an early 3-0 lead. The Coyotes responded with two goals in the third period before Moulson scored again to give the Kings a 4-2 lead.

The Kings eventually won the game, 4-3, which set up the special 10-minute overtime session.

With 55 seconds left in the extra session and a shootout looming, Phoenix's Peter Mueller tapped in the game-winner to beat the Kings' Jonathan Bernier, one of the Kings' two first-round draft choices this past June.

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This year's Shootout marked the fourth consecutive time the Kings have reached the Finals of the event. However, it also marked the franchise's fourth straight loss in the Finals.

Hubie McDonough, who played for the Kings briefly during his pro career and now serves as Manchester's Director of Hockey Operations, said he could not put his finger on why the Kings have not yet won the Shootout.

"It was nice to come back and win the first game tonight," McDonough said. "This was the first time we had that little 10-minute game. But I like how we bounced back after last night's loss. It was just a fluky goal at the end. We lost 1-0 after playing nine minutes of shutout hockey. But they have a good team too.

"Overall, it was a good test both nights against a team with some good players."

The Ducks won the 2005 event in San Jose and the 2004 tournament on their home ice. The Coyotes won the inaugural event in 2003 when it was played in El Segundo.

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Taking a step back from the actual game results, Morris knows that the development of the organization's top young players is the real key.

"Development in the name of the game," Morris said. "A lot of these guys are going to be in our system for a lot of time. It is great for our scouts and for our management to really see what we have under the hood and to compare them against other prospects. Those were quality organizations that were here this week. We feel we showed well. It is just that the puck did not bounce our way so to speak."

McDonough also said he saw a lot of improvement from some of the players from just one year ago.

"It was nice to see the guys I am familiar with improve from last year," McDonough said. "I hate to throw names out there, because I will leave some out, but I liked what I saw from a lot of the Manchester guys and from a lot of our new faces. It is exciting to have a lot of these guys as a part of our organization."

As a talent evaluator in particular, McDonough also liked the so-called 'compete factor' in his squad.

"It is always easy to pick the best player out there," ha added. "Anyone would tell you that Anze Kopitar was our best player, but you really look for the compete and the battle a guy has every night. Our young men did not quit, going back to Friday night and you can't ask for anything more than that."

A former Kings forward, McDonough played pro hockey from 1986-99. Morris has coached for more than 20 seasons after playing professionally for several seasons. The future of the Kings Shootout roster of nearly 30 rosters is still yet to be determined, but the future, after a few nights of on-ice action in Southern California, certainly looks bright indeed.

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