Onward and upward: New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs NCDC pulls the ultimate ‘180’
By Joshua Boyd / USPHL.,com
Belief. Trust. Determination.
These are words that the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs live by, and the themes that were at the center of an epic turnaround after a less than startling start in the National Collegiate Development Conference.
“I’m really proud of the group, the way they’ve stuck together and persevered,” said general manager/head coach Ryan Frew. “When we started the year 1-6-0-1, it would’ve been easy for the guys to quit on the spot and give up on the systems and culture.”
That simply never happened. The Monarchs took a deep breath, a long hard look in the mirror and got back out there for practice and dryland training every day. It worked, and the Monarchs are now in third place overall at 17-10-1-1.
The team went 7-2 after the 1-6-0-1 start. The beginning of the turnaround came at the Hitmen Classic in New Jersey, where they went 2-1, and almost forced overtime against a New Jersey Rockets team that was red-hot at the time itself.
They swept the next weekend against the Northern Cyclones, split against the Syracuse Jr. Stars, and then swept all three of their games at the Fall Beantown Classic.
“This may be the proudest I’ve been of a group of Monarchs, in terms of overall buy-in from player No. 1 to No. 23 on the roster,” said Frew. “These guys all played hard, embracing what we teach, and learning to be part of the Monarchs culture, more than just the hockey portion.”
A tradition of winning
The Monarchs culture goes back 25 years, to the formation of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, the predecessor to today’s United States Premier Hockey League.
After running under different names for their first eight years, the 2001 arrival of the Manchester Monarchs, formerly the Los Angeles Kings’ top farm team, prompted a name change to the current moniker. From 2001-13, the Monarchs were the powerhouse of the former EJHL, winning seven league championships between 2002 and 2012. The team also produced NHL talent, including Stanley Cup champions Brian Dumoulin and Trevor vanRiemsdyk.
The 2013-14 season was a massive season of change in the Northeastern U.S. junior landscape, and while many former EJHL teams joined the USPHL, the Monarchs took a different route. Longtime Monarchs head coach Sean Tremblay moved into his current position as GM/head coach of the Islanders Hockey Club. Frew, Tremblay’s former assistant, moved into his current position that year.
After winning a championship in their former league in 2016, the Monarchs announced their intention to return to the USPHL that fall. After one season of having their highest-level team in the USPHL Premier Division, the Monarchs announced one year ago their advancement into the tuition-free NCDC.
Although a lot has changed since the franchise’s opening in 1993, the Monarchs’ commitment to their community remains an integral part of that magic word, the cultureof the Monarchs.
“The players spend a lot of time together whether in their local elementary schools, or doing different team-building stuff,” said Frew. “It’s not us saying ‘show up for team building from 2-3 p.m.’ It just naturally transpires. The players enjoy being around each other and when they spend time together they naturally become immersed in their local community, and the spirit and camaraderie that it brings.”
Making it happen, here and now
So, the Monarchs had a better October than September. What now? They didn’t want to be a flash in the pan - there was momentum here and they had to keep this going. They battened down the hatches and went 6-0 into the Islanders Hockey Club Showcase, where the Hitmen defeated them.
The gut check time continued on Nov. 30, when the Rochester Jr. Monarchs defeated New Hampshire in regulation and then overtime the next day.
The energy got a boost, however, when the Monarchs won two of their three December meetings with the Junior Bruins, who ended the year in second place. The Monarchs, who were in last place at the end of September, now stand just four points behind the Junior Bruins.
“We have really improved our team defense, collectively,” said Frew. “Goaltending has been exceptional and overall buy-in for five guys playing systematically in front of the goaltender, which has allowed us to limit the shots and keep pucks to the perimeter.
“There was no greater display of this than when we played the Junior Bruins on the road [Dec. 15]. We had played the night before and looked sluggish in the first period,” said Frew. “The guys know now that if they stick to the process and trust in the way we systematically execute then they will give themselves a chance, we made it into the third down just 2-1. We got a great goal by newcomer Connor Amsley and Aidan Curran scored the game-winner. That was a great team win.”
As great a team as the Monarchs have been, there have also been outstanding individual efforts.
“I could talk about any one of the 23 guys on this roster about how they are exceptional in some capacity that helps this team win,” said Frew. “There is not a single kid who is just on a ride, there are no passengers.”
UNH recruit Aidan Curran, Felix Lamoureux, Trent DeNuccio and Jacob Laurin are the offensive leaders. Other forwards, including Wil Crane, Mitchell Shaheen and Robbie Ferreira, are hitting the ice for substantial minutes and doing it all - killing penalties, going hard on the forecheck, and filling roles that they may not have filled before in their careers.
Durajlija is not only a strong blueliner, but also a net-front presence for the Monarchs on the power play. Alex Sandquist has become known as a great playmaker, and Hubert Bourque “is really close to putting it all together as an NCAA Division 1 player.”
“We have also had outstanding goaltending from Brian Cannata and Matt Pasquale all year,” said Frew. “This team as a group has really impressed me and given me the best of who they are as individuals. It didn’t come easy for us, but now that everyone is embracing their new roles, they are learning how it brings them success, both as individuals and ultimately as a team.”
Looking to the future
The Monarchs will return in the start of January for the USPHL Winter Showcase, where they’ll face a Junior Bruins team hungry for vengeance, a Rockets team looking to reassert itself as a top team, and a P.A.L. Jr. Islanders squad hoping for a turnaround of their own.
“Coming from where we were two and a half months ago, when we were in big trouble, it’s nice to see this group believing in themselves and each other and everything we’re teaching,” said Frew.
That is, of course, after spending valuable time with their families and friends during the holiday break.
“We told these guys to take time off. Put away the skates and sticks. At the same time, we don’t want them to come back out of shape and flat,” said Frew. “You have to allow them to be kids.
“They all know how hard we worked for where we are in the standings, and they know what’s on the line,” said Frew. “This is an outstanding league with outstanding coaches and great hockey teams. You can’t take any nights off and you can lose to anybody - and I like to think we can beat anybody.”
The Monarchs have shown they have what it takes to be in the Dineen Cup title hunt at the end of the season.
“They just have to fight and I’m proud that they kept believing when other people had written us off,” added Frew. “They want to play for each other, and it’s the players who ultimately determine your success as a coach. These guys are willing to go over the all and give everything they have. There’s a heck of a lot of hard work ahead to remain where we are or to improve upon our standings.”
In the end, to hold that big Cup over head requires Belief. It requires Trust. It requires Determination.