New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs-
6th time's a charm
Empire Jr. Monarchs Take 2009/2010 Empire League Championship
At the end of a whirlwind league playoff season that had the drama and excitement of a Hollywood blockbuster the bad guys finally won. The New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs showed that they aren’t just a bunch of over-aged pugilists, and that they can play some pretty good hockey when called upon and when it matters the most. The ‘Narchs finally captured their long awaited first Empire Junior Hockey League playoff championship in the programs 6 year history. The organization has never failed to qualify for the Empire playoffs, has played in the league final in 3 of the last 4 years and qualified for the USA Hockey Junior National Championships in each of the previous 3 seasons and now a 4th, however the prestigious Champions Cup has eluded them since their inception to the league back in 2004-05.
Their playoff journey began in Haverhill, MA with two solid wins over the Fitchburg Huskies (4-1) and the Bay State Breakers (4-1) in the first two games of the elite 8 double elimination tournament, followed by a hard fought loss to the Jr. Bruins in game three. The Monarchs loss dropped them into a “must win” loser’s bracket final last Sunday night. New Hampshire would face a gutsy Green Mountain squad who eventually ran out of gas and the ‘Narchs cruised to a 6-1 victory, earning a spot in the league final four.
Next, it was on to Foxboro for the purple and black where the Monarchs opened the final four in style with a thrilling 6-4 win over the Western Conferences #1 seed the New York Applecore. It was a tale of two games as the monarchs led 1-0 after 2 periods only to see both teams combine for 9 goals in the 3rd. Jordan Messier's game winner with a little over 6 minutes remaining was the difference maker and Evan Schultz's final minute empty net goal iced the game as the Monarchs moved on for a rematch against their heated rival the Jr. Bruins.
The winner of this one would punch their ticket to the league title game. In the first period the Bruins got it going late and the Monarchs fell behind 1-0 headed in to the locker room for the first intermission. New Hampshire answered the bell with 3 unanswered 2nd period goals by Ryan Callahan, Phil Arnone and Matt Crowley to take a 3-1 lead into the 3rd. A Mitch Beyer power-play goal trimmed the Monarchs lead to 3-2 but Phil Arnone's 2nd of the night provided the insurance in a 4-2 Monarchs win. The Bruins loss sent the B’s to an unfamiliar loser’s bracket final for a meeting with the red hot Maksymum Hockey team who had already sent the New York Applecore packing, Maksymum would avenge their previous loss to the black and gold and guide the Bruins to an early exit from the Empire playoffs.
In the finals the Monarchs met Maksymum Hockey for the Empire League title. Heading into the 3rd period with a 5-3 lead the Monarchs watched as Maksymum bravely fought back to send the game into overtime with 2 3rd period goals. A combination of New Hampshire’s lack luster play and selfish penalties put the Monarchs on the ropes as regulation time expired. Just as it looked like the Monarchs may have blown their chance at a league title Nick Bundzinski jammed home a rebound 2 minutes into the extra frame to send Monarchs nation into hysteria. As the players rushed the ice to mob Bundzinski it was hard not to think of their fallen comrade Corey Lee who was out of the title game and in the hospital with a concussion and severe facial lacerations requiring 50+ stitches due to a vicious hit from behind in the previous game.
While the Monarchs are now preparing to continue their playoff success at Nationals it is important to remember that after a rough start this group of 25 guys found their stride and overcame adversity on their way to a league title. With several key players out of the line-up during the final four weekend who are scheduled to return for the National Championships the bad boys are excited about trying to continue their winning ways on the national stage.