In their final season in Manchester (New Hampshire), the Monarchs captured their first Calder Trophy as champions of the American Hockey League.
The affiliate of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings needed only five games to defeat the Utica Comets, the decisive game being a 2-1 victory in New York state.
Adrian Kempe scored the first goal of the final game to give Manchester an early 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Captain Vincent LoVerde made it 2-0 soon after, and only a late goal by Cal O’Reilly with 15 seconds remaining in the game made the score closer.
The 18-year-old Kempe became the youngest Swede to win a North American professional championship. He is not the first Swede to win the Calder Cup, though. Other recent players include Patrik Nemeth (last year, with Texas), Robin Lehner (2011, Binghamton), and Staffan Kronwall (Hershey, 2009).
As for Kempe, he was drafted 29th overall last year by the Kings. While playing the 2014/15 season with MODO Ornskoldsvik, he also represented Sweden at the World Juniors in Montreal and Toronto, finishing fourth. At the end of the Swedish season, Kempe joined the Monarchs for the AHL playoffs.
The only other European on the Monarchs was goaltender Patrik Bartosak of the Czech Republic, who starred in the decisive game. It was only his third appearance of these AHL playoffs after he joined the team from Red Deer in the WHL where he was one of the league’s top goalies. Bartosak played in the 2013 World Juniors and was drafted by the Kings that summer.
The Monarchs will move closer to Los Angeles for the 2015/16 season, relocating to Ontario, California. During their 14 years in New Hampshire, the team has seen many European players pass through its program: Jaroslav Bednar, Denis Grebeshkov, Milan Hnilicka, Cristobal Huet, Andrei Loktionov, and Oleg Tverdovski, to name but a few.
The team’s two most notable alumni, though, are American. Goalie Jonathan Quick and forward Dustin Brown developed in the Monarchs ranks and later led the Kings to Stanley Cup victory in 2012. Both also played in the Sochi Olympics last year.
Japanese goaltender Yutaka Fukufuji also played two years with Manchester (2005-07) during a time he made history as the first Japanese player to play an NHL game.
Utica, on the other hand, has seven Europeans, including four Swedes. Goalies Jakob Markstrom, who backstopped Sweden to a gold medal at the 2013 World Championship, is on the team. Sven Bartschi, a Swiss forward who played a few games in the NHL this season with both Calgary and Vancouver, is also on the Comets, as is Nicklas Jensen, a promising Dane.
The AHL is the prime development league for the NHL but over the last two decades and more it has been a league for Europeans to learn as well. Indeed, while top players from overseas benefit from developing at home, most at some point will spend a bit of time in the AHL acclimatizing, as Kempe is doing.
And, as the Monarchs move west to be closer to the Kings, the transition from AHL to NHL will be geographically easier for their players, hopefully helping the next generation of Kings make a smoother transition from minor pro to the big time of the NHL.