We have reached the month of March...and the beginning of the homestretch of the ECHL regular season.
The Adirondack Thunder had a huge beginning for their month of March: a two game road series in New Hampshire against a team they had been chasing for first place in the North Division for a majority of the season, the Manchester Monarchs.
Thanks to a fresh-out-of-college goaltender and major production from the latest top offensive line, the Thunder pulled off a two game sweep. They were awarded with the top spot in the division standings...for a few hours anyway.
Before we review the on ice portion of the week, we’ll start off with this week’s roster moves first. It was another busy week of transactions and roster shuffling:
-The biggest signing of the week came from the Tampa/Syracuse side, as the Crunch signed college free agent Olivier Mantha to fill the role of third goaltender. This position was left vacant after Nick Riopel was dealt to Bakersfield in late January. The 25-year-old Quebec native recently completed a four year collegiate career at Alaska-Anchorage, where he posted a 28-77-14 mark in 122 appearances. He is the school’s record holder for saves (3,449), save percentage (.908), and minutes (6973:22). Mantha is also a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award.
-With Mantha joining the Thunder, Tomas Sholl became the odd man out in net, and was traded to Idaho on Thursday for future considerations.
-Also on the Syracuse side, Matthew Spencer returned to the Crunch on Tuesday.
-On the New Jersey/Binghamton side, defenseman Colton White was recalled to the Devils on Tuesday, but returned to the Thunder on Thursday.
-Finally, defenseman Nolan Kaiser and forward Tim Kielich, brought in last Wednesday to fill in due to injuries, were released from their SPCs on Tuesday.
Friday, 3/2: Adirondack 6, Manchester 1
Drew Fielding would get the nod in net as Adirondack started a two game set in New Hampshire on Friday evening.
It did not take long for the Thunder to grab an early lead. Troy Bourke would score his 5th goal of the season 1:06 into the opening period for a 1-0 advantage.
Terrence Wallin would double the Adirondack lead with his 19th goal of the season midway through the first.
Bourke ➡️ Wallin on the slap pass puts us up by a pair! pic.twitter.com/HHsTuswz00— Adirondack Thunder (@ECHLThunder) March 3, 2018
Manchester would cut the Adirondack lead in half 1:03 into the second period on a goal by Matt Schmalz. James Henry would restore the two goal Thunder lead with his 18th goal on a power play with 5:08 remaining.
Adirondack would put the game away for good late in the third period with 3 goals in a span of 2:47. First, Shane Conacher would score his 12th goal for a 4-1 lead. Tim Harrison would follow that up with his 7th goal to increase the lead to four.
The cherry on top came 27 seconds after the Harrison goal. Bourke would add his second goal of the night to finish off the 6-1 Thunder win, bringing them within one point of the Monarchs for first place in the division.
The trio of Bourke, Conacher, and Wallin combined for a total of 13 points, lead by Conacher’s one goal and four assists. Bourke finished with two goals and two assists, and Wallin had one goal and three assists. Fielding picked up win #14 with 37 saves, including:
3. Troy Bourke (ADK) 2 goals, 2 assists
2. Drew Fielding (ADK) 37 saves
1. Terrence Wallin (ADK) 1 goal, 3 assists
Saturday, 3/3: Adirondack 3, Manchester 1
For the rematch 23 hours later on Saturday, Mantha would get the start, making his professional debut under the biggest of circumstances: win, and the Thunder take sole possession of first place in the North for at least a day. There was one lineup change from Friday: forward Brian Ward was signed to a PTO by the Providence Bruins earlier in the day, and would pick up an assist in Providence’s 6-2 win in Hartford. Conor Riley would take Ward’s place.
Adirondack would again be first on the board in the opening period. Pierre-Luc Mercier would score his 15th goal of the season 6:57 in for the 1-0 advantage.
Have Merci!— Adirondack Thunder (@ECHLThunder) March 3, 2018
Pierre-Luc Mercier with some great work along the boards to create the game's first goal! pic.twitter.com/7v6RFMHHev
Mantha had a great first professional period, stopping all 15 shots faced. Then there was this:
Mannnnnnnn Oh Mantha!— Adirondack Thunder (@ECHLThunder) March 3, 2018
1⃣5⃣ shots, 1⃣5⃣ saves in his first period of professional hockey, including this glovely stop just over five minutes in! pic.twitter.com/phFVPhfjh1
Let’s watch it again on video.
The Monarchs would tie the game 2:13 into the second period on a goal by Francois Beauchemin. Again, Adirondack would respond later in the period, taking a 2-1 lead on Andrew Radjenovic’s seventh goal.
Orszulak finds Radjenovic and we lead again! pic.twitter.com/QjDuEqbzhs— Adirondack Thunder (@ECHLThunder) March 4, 2018
Mercier would add an insurance goal, his second of the game and 16th of the season, midway through the third for the final 3-1 margin.
Mantha had a successful pro debut, picking up win #1 and stopping 30 of 31 Monarch shots. Riley would add two assists.
And, most importantly, as a result of the two game sweep...Hello first place in the North.
3. Conor Riley (ADK) 2 assists
2. Olivier Mantha (ADK) 30 saves
1. Pierre-Luc Mercier (ADK) 2 goals
Unfortunately, with a 4-1 win in Worcester on Sunday afternoon, Manchester would retain first place by a point.
The rest of this week’s roster moves:
DELETE: F Brian Ward, signed PTO with Providence 3/3
DELETE: F Evan Neugold, traded to South Carolina 3/4
DELETE: D Colton White, recalled to Binghamton 3/4
Goals: Terrence Wallin, 19
Assists: Shane Conacher, 36
Points: Shane Conacher, 48
Plus/Minus: Mathieu Brodeur/Shane Conacher, +14
Penalty Minutes: Tim Harrison, 86
Wins: Drew Fielding, 14
Goals Against Average: Olivier Mantha, 1.00
Save Percentage: Olivier Mantha, .968
ECHL North Division Standings:
(as of 3/4/18)
- Manchester: 59 GP, 34-20-3-2, 73 points
- Adirondack: 59 GP, 33-20-3-3, 72 points
- Reading: 58 GP, 31-21-6-0, 68 points
- Wheeling: 59 GP, 29-23-6-1, 65 points
- Worcester: 57 GP, 26-24-4-3, 59 points
- Brampton: 58 GP, 22-26-6-4, 54 points
A busy month for the Thunder continues with a three-in-three weekend, but they will not have to go far.
It begins on Friday night back on home ice, as the Thunder host Manchester with first place again on the line. On Saturday, Adirondack wraps up a brief two game homestand with a visit from Norfolk. Finally, a quick turnaround on Sunday afternoon, as the Thunder head east to Worcester to face the Railers.