Sunday, April 26, 2015

Portland Pirates 2 at Manchester Monarchs 6 (AHL Eastern Conference QF, Game 2) - April 25, 2015

After a delightful day touring the Currier Museum of Art (highly recommended), it was time for the main event of my Manchester weekend, the alliterative AHL playoff game between the Portland Pirates and Manchester Monarchs. The Monarchs are moving to the West Coast after the season and being replaced by an ECHL team with the same name so this was my last chance to see the AHL at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Located at the southern edge of downtown, the rink is one of the biggest in the league, at least among those that don't house a major league team. Note the huge sloped roof (not so obvious above) is so designed to allow the heavy New Hampshire snow to fall off. Manchester has free street parking on the weekend, so you can find a spot nearby and avoid paying for a lot.

Whereas most arenas block off portions of the upper deck for AHL games, all seats are sold here, with capacity listed at 9,852 for hockey. The cheapest seat for this second game of the conference quarterfinal was $12 and that left me in the top row behind one of the nets (view above). I am pretty sure this is farther away than the top row at Nassau Coliseum. Even further away are the top seats along the sides, which are above some luxury suites. The view from here is seen below. Note that the upper bowl seats along the side form a parabola, a rare setup in this sort of indoor venue.

The main entrance leads you to a platform behind one of the nets (below) but access to the rest of the seats is up a set of stairs on either side. The main concourse is relatively narrow and during intermissions, lineups from the concession stands and restrooms can make a walkaround a trying proposition. There are two additional mini concourses that lead to the upper decks on the sidelines.

If you have figured it out yet, the Monarchs are affiliated with the Los Angeles Kings, who won a couple of Stanley Cups in recent years. There is a banner honouring those players who played here and were on the first Cup-winning squad.

The lower bowl is at a shallow angle, so even in the 10th row, some of the ice is blocked by the glass. This is not a problem during the play, but limits your ability to take unobstructed pictures.  Like so many hockey teams now, the Monarchs darken the arena for introductions, so get to your seat early. The players emerge from a giant inflated lion's head. It actually looks pretty cool.

Overall, however, I found the venue to be somewhat limited in its amenities given its large size. The design is unique but not necessarily the smartest use of space. That's a minor complaint though, and I'll be back here to check out the ECHL next season.

The Game

The Monarchs finished first in the Eastern Conference while Portland (Arizona) barely made the playoffs. Mike McKenna (who has seen action in 22 NHL games for four franchises) got the start for Portland, despite giving up 4 goals on 14 shots in Game 1, a 5-2 Manchester victory.

Well, things were even worse for McKenna on this night, as just 20 seconds in, Manchester's Michael Mersch chipped the puck into the net after taking a pass from league MVP Brian O'Neill (above) stationed behind the net. Ten seconds after that, Jordan Weal skated down the right wing and took a harmless shot from the corner that McKenna somehow played into the net, and Manchester led 2-0 with only half a minute gone.

McKenna was mercifully pulled and replaced by Louis Domingue (above, who I had seen come into a game in Ottawa earlier this year). That seemed to sort Portland out and they prevented any more goals, scoring themselves with 14 seconds left in the period as a Brendan Shinnimin point shot deflected off a Monarch defender past Jean-Francois Berube (below).

The second period was scoreless despite Portland being afforded a five minute power play due to an Andrew Crescenzi boarding major and we entered the third with the outcome still in doubt. But not for long. First, Manchester's Sean Backman tipped home a point shot for a power-play goal at 1:53; just 17 seconds after that O'Neill drilled a shot from the slot that beat Domingue under the bar, and a further 22 seconds elapsed before Nic Dowd finished a rush by deking a shell-shocked Domingue and sliding the puck home. That's three goals in 39 seconds, a franchise record and more than enough for Manchester to cruise to a 6-2 win and take a 2-0 lead in the best of 5 series.

I was not impressed with Portland's overall play, as well as the general lack of intensity displayed by either team. The AHL playoffs are not much different than the regular season from what I can tell, which makes sense, no one grows up dreaming of scoring the Calder Cup winning goal.


Brendan Periini, Arizona's first-round pick in 2014 (12th overall) appeared in his first pro game just two days before his 20th birthday. He finished with a shot on goal and a -2 rating.

I had planned to drive up to Portland for Game 3, but the rather anemic displayed convinced me to remain in Manchester for another Fisher Cats ballgame, also reducing the Sunday night drive home. Portland won 3-2, scoring the winner with 3 seconds left. Domingue took the victory, while McKenna wasn't even dressed. It was the first playoff win for a Coyotes AHL affiliate since May 27, 2008, when San Antonio Rampage beat Toronto in the opening round.

Update: Manchester went on to win the series in 5 with the home team winning every game. They then beat WBS in 5, Hartford in 4, and Utica in 5 to win the Calder Cup.

Next Up

I'm off to the Barbados this weekend for the third and final test of England's tour of the West Indies. Check back next week for a recap.



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