Photo by Jon Rosen
Even before they knew the Los Angeles Kings would move their AHL operation to Ontario, California; the Monarchs looked like a team ready to finally make a big run at the Calder Cup. While this past season wasn’t their best in terms of wins and points (51 wins and 110 points was reached twice in 2004-05 and 2006-07), it is the first season they were able to have the highest wins and point total in the league (50 wins and 108 points). And while this team didn’t have a win past the first round in four previous playoffs– there was something a little more determined by the team to give their fans a good send-off to the AHL. Though, it was the first round that almost did the Monarchs in again, as they were pushed to a decisive Game Five against the Portland Pirates, but were able to make it out of their alive and then cruise through the rest of the Eastern Conference and then play a hard-fought five games to defeat the Utica Comets and win their first Calder Cup in their last season.
More over, though, is what the Monarchs have done in terms of development and who the fans have been able to see. From Jonathan Quick, Mike Cammalleri, and Matt Moulson; the Monarchs produced a decent amount of NHLers and many who have gone on to win a Stanley Cup with the Kings. Even to the end, with playoff MVP Jordan Weal, defenseman Colin Miller, goalie J-F Berube, and breakout performer Michael Mersch were all Manchester products who will be an asset to the Kings in the future. The fans lucked out big time when it came to the Kings drafting and signing great young talent for them to watch since 2001.
And the fans did turn out for this team, even though after the first few years– they weren’t able to pull in the big 8,000+ average. In the last few years, the Monarchs were at the middle of the AHL charts with attendance at the 5,500+ mark. Much can be put towards the downturn in attendance– the economy, people moving away from the area, more things to do in the area– but the die-hard fans were there to the end and were rewards with this Calder Cup victory.
Yet, the big question is whether or not they’ll turn out in the same numbers with the ECHL team in town. That has been one of the main concerns with the swaps of team is if people who had enjoyed AHL hockey for years will enjoy the “downgrade” of leagues and embrace the new players that will come in, but under the same moniker they feel is familiar with the AHL. While there are few entries in this, the numbers don’t really help the cause for support– as the Peoria Rivermen saw a drop-off of around 1,500 fans not attended the SPHL incarnation the season after they left the AHL. When the Utah Grizzlies went from the AHL to the ECHL, they saw about a 1,000 person drop-off, though their numbers were steadily declining in their last few AHL years. That said, the Grizzlies have rebounded the past few years with better teams and management decisions.
The Monarchs will join the 1967 Pittsburgh Hornets, the 1970 Buffalo Bisons, and 1982 New Brunswick Hawks as teams who won the Calder Cup and not play in the AHL the next season. It will be interesting to see how the Manchester Monarchs go about raising their championship banner. Will they do it during their parade celebration in a couple weeks or will they wait until ECHL opening night to raise their 1st Calder Cup winning banner from the rafters of the Verizon Wireless Arena?? Regardless of the decision, to leave a league out on top is anything that anyone in that organization could have hoped for as the transition happens.