Ready or not, the Providence Bruins have their first measuring pole coming in a hurry.
No team in the AHL’s Eastern Conference has had more players reconvene to the same dressing room to wear the same uniform and play for the same system this autumn than the Manchester Monarchs.
Of the 24 members of his roster in the wee stages of the 2011-12 season, sixth-year head coach Mark Morris instructed 20 of them for all or a portion of 2010-11.
Two of them are delving into their fifth season with the team, including winger David Meckler, who just became the first Monarch to dress for 300 career games last Saturday. Another four are in Year No. 4 while five others are entering their third season with the Los Angeles Kings primary farm club.
Very little could bode much better for an aspiring contender, let alone one in a minor-league dynamic complete with the relentless revolving door. When Morris and his staff come to the Dunkin Donuts Center on Friday to face the P-Bruins, they will come bearing a uniquely veteran-laden, battle-tested core that has lived through most every breed of hardships.
A total of 16 Manchester returnees, including 14 skaters, were active during last year’s fall-from-ahead meltdown in the postseason. On the heels of placing second in the Atlantic Division, the Monarchs spilled a 3-1 first-round series lead and conceded three straight overtime games to the eventual Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators.
Two years prior to that, six Manchester mainstays―Justin Azevedo, Andrew Campbell, Marc-Andre Cliche, Richard Clune, Meckler and Slava Voynov―partook in the 11-year-old franchise’s first and only playoff no-go.
In 2009-10, with nearly half of his current allotment, Morris improved his team by 13 points and enjoyed his deepest postseason run since his first year on the job. Manchester reached the conference finals, ultimately submitting to the dynastic Hershey Bears in six games.
Eight of this year’s skaters were with the Monarchs when they spilled a 2-0 lead in the third period and lost their elimination game, 3-2, in overtime at the Giant Center May 22, 2010.
Overall, Morris has 17 skaters who have played a cumulative 2,274 regular-season games for him. That’s an average of 133 Manchester twirls, or nearly two AHL seasons, per individual.
Contrast that with the 21 active skaters in Bruce Cassidy’s ice house who have charged up a combined 1,225 games-played with Providence. And it is worth noting that eight rostered P-Bruins are in their first full professional season, including five who whet their blades last March and April after finishing their college/major junior careers.
This is not to say that the Monarchs mortifyingly dwarf Providence in the way of seasoning and maturity. After all, Trent Whitfield, Jamie Tardif, Josh Hennessy and Anton Khudobin have all seen substantial AHL action in other cities.
But the Monarchs do have a decisive upper hand in the gelling game. Only rookies Nick Deslauriers and Linden Vey along with seventh-year pro Cam Paddock came to training camp wholly unfamiliar with Morris. More recently, fourth-year AHLer Stefan Legein was just imported on Wednesday from the Adirondack Phantoms as part of a swap between the Kings and Philadelphia Flyers.
Other than that, Morris has 19 players who have seen action in at least 19 extramural ventures under his instruction. Cassidy has 13 players who have played 18 games or fewer under himself and/or predecessor Rob Murray.
For what one weekend is worth, the Monarchs have already set a tone with the St. John’s IceCaps to be the two top dogs in the new, five-team Atlantic circuit. Before enduring a 1-0 loss to the 2-0-0 IceCaps last Saturday, they thrashed the Springfield Falcons, 5-2, on the strength of Cliche’s natural hat trick and Andrei Loktionov’s playmaker hat trick.
Translation: Cliche is presently outscoring the entire Providence strike force, which is relatively seasoned in its own right, yet has tuned the mesh twice in as many games.
The P-Bruins have not started at 0-3 since their inaugural season in 1992-93. They have not gone winless through their first three ventures since an 0-2-1 start to the 1995-96 campaign.
Of all the prospective adversaries to help avert one or both scenarios, the Monarchs are likely the least charitably inclined. Cassidy and Co. can still set an early tone of defiance and throw their helmets in the Atlantic Division derby, but they are advised to perk up in an efficient hurry.