IN ANNOUNCING that they would be ceasing operations, the ownership group of the Manchester Monarchs stated this past week that “It’s just clear to us minor league hockey is not viable in Manchester at the ECHL level.”
Is this true? Can professional hockey succeed in Manchester?
Thinking about the answer brought me back 19 years, to the days at my new Monarchs office at 832 Elm St. as a staff of one. I was charged with bringing professional hockey to Manchester to be the anchor tenant of the new arena being built down the street. It was the biggest challenge I had accepted in my then 20 years in professional sports.
I was new to the city, but it didn’t take me long to realize that things were going to work out.
Here’s why: I met a man named Dick Boucher during the early days on the job and he started telling me hockey stories. Manchester hockey stories about the Blackhawks, the Tam O’Shanter Hockey Club and the Alpine Club. I heard about the standing-room-only crowds that filled the JFK Coliseum on Saturday and Sunday nights to watch the likes of Ray Champagne, Jacques LeClerc and Willie ‘The Barber’ Bibeau.
Dick helped me understand that I wasn’t bringing hockey to Manchester. Hockey has always been here. It didn’t matter if it was the American Hockey League or the Granite State Hockey League, this was — and still is — a hockey town.
It was a great time to be in Manchester in the early 2000s. The SNHU Arena (then known as the Verizon Wireless Arena) became a catalyst for a growing downtown scene, engaging residents and business leaders. The Manchester Monarchs were thriving along with downtown, regularly filling the arena and ranking among the top draws in the AHL.
Please understand that the AHL wasn’t the central attraction and, certainly, the team’s affiliation with the very distant Los Angeles Kings wasn’t what kept the people coming. It was the hockey and the entertainment. It was Saturday night with the family. Max leading the Monarchs onto the ice at the Verizon to the strains of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ had replaced the Tams warming up wearing their trademark Scottish caps at the JFK in the 1960s.
The names may have changed, but what always remained the same were the supportive fans. Because Manchester is full of proud people who stand by what they believe in.
Our belief in the Millyard ushered in an urban renaissance that now symbolizes the city’s resilience and defines our forward-thinking resolve.
Our belief in the viability of the Palace Theatre sparked the commitment to a revitalization that has enabled us to have this wonderful historic gem remain as the center of performing arts in the region.
Our belief in a downtown arena resulted in making the SNHU Arena one of the world’s best-drawing arenas of its size to this day, almost 20 years after opening its doors.
And our belief in the Monarchs earned Manchester and New Hampshire well-deserved recognition as one of the true hockey hotbeds in the country.
So what happened to make the team leave? I can’t say. I moved on to the challenge of running my own ad agency, right here in downtown Manchester, and have no great insight.
But here is what I do know. This city is alive with a vibrant downtown and a thriving Millyard district because the people, including business and community leaders, stand behind what they believe in. This spirit is one of the reasons I have made the Manchester area my home.
I believe professional hockey will return to Manchester. Whether it’s the ECHL or AHL, it really doesn’t matter. Consider this: The top two ECHL teams for attendance this year were Fort Wayne, Indiana and Toledo, Ohio, cities that certainly have nothing on Manchester in terms of population, commerce or culture.
And, with all due respect to those fine cities, I know Manchester outshines them as a hockey town. All you have to do is spend a little time listening to the stories to understand that.
So, can Manchester support a professional hockey team?
You tell me.
This article was originally published in the Union Leader. Click here for the original article.