MANCHESTER, NH – Ken Cail has called every Manchester Monarchs game and is one of the most recognizable voices in southern New Hampshire.
You can read part one of their conversation, here: http://thesinbin.net/a-sitdown-with-the-voice-of-the-monarchs-ken-cail/
Part two of their chat is here: http://thesinbin.net/a-sitdown-with-the-voice-of-the-monarchs-ken-cail-part-two/
In the third and final installment, Cail and Heistman discuss the difference between the AHL & ECHL, resuming old rivalries with Worcester and Portland, the most important player in Monarchs’ history, some of the notable names to come through southern New Hampshire and where to eat in Manchester.
K: I think they would be surprised with the caliber of play in the ECHL, some of these naysayers that say they’ll never come to an ECHL game. I don’t think some people realize, I’m sure you do, but the talent pool of hockey players that’s out there worldwide. A lot of great collegiate programs in this country, junior programs in Canada and beyond, players from all different countries around the world… there’s a tremendous talent pool out there, and there are certainly enough players out there to go around to make the ECHL a very entertaining product, I think.
J: I would challenge anyone to find a difference, watching an ECHL game vs. an AHL game, in the level of play.
K: I’ve said that many times. I would love to have two screens, side-by-side, and I’d like you to tell me which is the AHL game and which is the ECHL game if there were no markings or anything like that. Regarding caliber of play, unless you’re a real hockey expert and have played the game at a high level or a collegiate level, I doubt that too many people could tell the difference. I just think that it’s unfortunate that some people believe that it’s a different product. I think the difference for a lot of individuals is the fact that these players are not going to go immediately, if ever, to the NHL. I think that people liked to see players playing for Manchester one night, and the Kings the next, and I think that meant a lot to people. And you’re not going to have that in this league. I don’t think the caliber of play is the main issue. I think it’s that you can see these guys in Providence as a Bruin the next night, or the Monarchs as Kings the next night, whatever the scenario might be. You just don’t get to see that in this league, that’s just the nature of the beast. That doesn’t mean there isn’t talent in the ECHL. We saw that last year, we saw more players for the Monarchs get called up from the ECHL to the AHL than any other team in the league.
J: Now, from your perspective, Ken, what was that transition like from the AHL to the ECHL? Was there any change in the way you do things at all?
K: You know, not really. I’m just disappointed that we don’t have a local radio contract anymore. The station I work for, The Pulse (WTPL 107.7 FM) in Concord picked up several games during the course of the season, but we really do not have a regular radio outlet. I hope that changes down the road, because that’s significant. We do have the ECHL.tv and the internet, but I think having games on the radio is important because inherently the team will have more publicity. They’ll be talking about the game coming on that night, and the fact that the team exists. I think there are still people out there that think the Monarchs are gone, I really do. They don’t think there’s a team anymore. I think that the transition was confusing for people, and they think that was it for professional hockey in Manchester. I think there’s still a degree of confusion about that. So I think having a radio contract would be important, I really do. I hope someday… as of today, as I chat with you now, we still don’t have one for this coming season. Hopefully that’ll change between now and October 14, but I’m not overly optimistic that will take place.
J: That’s unfortunate. Speaking of October 14, though, how do you feel about having Worcester back?
K: I think it’s great. I mean, we had a lot of travel… the closest opponent up to this season had been Glens Falls (Adirondack Thunder), and that’s three-and-a-half hours.
Looking back at the AHL days, the travel was so easy. The last several seasons, we played 46 games of the 76 against four teams: Portland, Providence, Worcester and St. Johns, Newfoundland. One of the things that we did see was more variety of teams in the ECHL and more travel. We made some of the trips in sleeper buses and others in the air, but still, the travel has been a lot more difficult. So with Worcester coming back this year, and Portland coming back the following year, that’s going to be great. It’s going to be like having the gang back together again.
J: I always felt that Providence, Portland, and Worcester were Manchester’s top-3 as far as rivalries go, with Providence probably having been number one, and probably the biggest draw because of the connection with the Boston Bruins.
K: Oh, no doubt, I think it would be beneficial down the road, if somehow, Manchester could acquire the Bruins’ affiliation in the ECHL.
J: Do you think that’s likely?
K: Likely? Probably not within the next couple of years, but it’s possible. They’re in Atlanta right now; I think anybody could be in Atlanta if you wanted to swap affiliations. For example, I don’t think, for the Kings, it would matter if they had Atlanta. It’s more perception than reality, in the long run, in the ECHL, because you don’t have that many players on the roster, no matter which it is, that belong to the “parent club.” I mean, we had more players last year affiliated with the Florida Panthers than we did with the Kings!
J: I was just thinking about that because I remember a lot of the guys who went up to the AHL went to Springfield.
K: Yeah, exactly! Sam Brittain, as you pointed out in your article (on July 19, 2017) belongs to the Panthers. He suited up for a couple of games in Florida as a backup didn’t play, but suited up a couple of times. It’s more perception than reality in the ECHL the way things are. There are certainly free agents on the rosters that can go anywhere in the AHL. But I mean, for the Monarchs to be able to go out and wear the black-and-gold of the Bruins, I think it would mean a lot to a lot of people in this area.
J: I agree with you. While we are on the subject of players, I forgot to mention this when I was talking about Worcester: Ashton Rome goes to Worcester!
K: We’re going to miss him! I love to have an Ashton Rome on the team.
J: Yeah, I think he was a real physical presence for the team, and he came on in the playoffs, which was surprising.
K: And he does have a history in Worcester, and I think they will probably look at him as probably the drawing card, probably the biggest former Worcester player they’re going to get. Probably look at him as a lynchpin. He has a great personality, and they’re going to try to make him as high profile as possible. And he lives in Massachusetts, too!
J: It’ll be interesting to see the reception he gets when Worcester comes into Manchester. Now, talking about older players…do you remember most of the guys that have come through Manchester?
K: Oh, I think so, especially the significant ones. So many have had outstanding careers in the NHL and so many of the Kings’ Stanley Cup wins. Obviously, the most high-profile player that has come here is Jonathan Quick, even though he didn’t play for us all that long, but probably the most high-profile player that we’ve ever had. Certainly, Dustin Brown.
I used to do a TV show, local access cable, and the players would come in and I’d interview them, and you’d really get to know their personalities. I just looked and saw that Quick only played 33 games in Manchester, and I do remember when he was called up, I guess it had to be in 2009, to the Kings. And at that time, the next goaltender to go to the Kings, everyone assumed, as Jonathan Bernier. And the decision was made when the Monarchs were actually playing in Winnipeg, the decision to call up Quick when there was an injury, rather than Bernier. And Bernier’s psyche really was damaged at that time, it really was. He thought he was the next guy to come up. When they took Quick who had at that point, compared to Bernier, he did not have as much professional experience… the Kings selected him. And it looks like they knew what they were doing.
J: It seems like the Kings made the right decision. So, do you keep in touch with any of these guys from back in the day?
K: Once in a while, you see them at different things, but I don’t really… we’ve spoken sometimes or make comments with one another on Facebook. You might see them from time-to-time with other teams as the seasons progress. But I don’t really keep in touch in terms of picking up the phones or anything like that. But they’re all terrific guys, never had an issue with anybody that’s ever been on the team, but it’s great to see someone from the past.
I guess the guy I’ve kept in touch with the most, former Monarch, is Rich Clune. His dad and I go back and forth and he used to text me all the time during broadcasts. I’ve met his parents on multiple occasions, and I saw him last summer when he came back to Manchester to speak about some of the issues he’s had with substance abuse, so I would say he’s the one I’ve had the most contact with during his post-Monarchs career.
J: The few times I’ve ever come across Cluner, he was just a real cordial guy, super sweet.
K: It’s funny, some of the toughest guys on the ice, some of the real fighters, have turned out to be some of the sweetest guys you’d ever want to meet. Clune is in that category, Kevin Westgarth and George Parros is like that as well. You wouldn’t think so by their on-ice personas, but I’ll tell ya, really terrific guys and it’s true with many other teams as well, the Man of the Year, the guys who do the most in the community are usually the guys with the most penalty minutes, too.
J: Maybe they have a guilty conscience, who knows?
K: I don’t know what it is, but it’s turned out that way. I know that Trevor Gillies has always been popular, he picked up a lot of penalty minutes over the years. It’s ironic that it’s turned out that way.
J: I think the player that I ever saw that was always best with the kids was Justin Johnson.
K: Absolutely! JJ was great with everybody he met. A real gentleman off the ice. Not on the ice, but off the ice. A real great guy and many of the fans that brought their kids to see him, he never disappointed. Loved being around kids, I can only say positive things about Justin Johnson. Sorry, he’s not still here! Would love to have him.
J: I think he went to Bridgeport after Manchester.
K: He went to Toronto (Marlies), too.
J: Seems like a lot of former Monarchs players go to Toronto.
K: Well, you know why that is? It’s because (former Monarchs assistant coach) Scott Pellerin is the Player Personnel Director for Toronto, so he’s familiar with a lot of these guys.
J: Interesting! I think Andrew Campbell played there… Bernier played there, Brandon Kozun…
K: Marc-Andre Cliche, Clune… exactly, yeah. Pellerin was instrumental in bringing those guys to the Toronto Marlies. He’s working for them now, and he’s certainly the reason there’s such a large former-Manchester contingent on the Marlies.
J: That’s good that they have someplace to take them in!
K: I think a lot of it not only has to do with their skills on the ice, but also the character. All those guys we mentioned had great character, so that enters into the decision by Scott Pellerin, who was a great character guy himself as both a player and coach.
J: One of the things that will always stick out for me will always be cutting goal highlights. There were some guys that it seemed you genuinely enjoyed coming up with a way to call their names when they scored, and one of the guys who will always stick out in my mind, because he was one of my favorites, was Yanick Lehoux. I guess one of the questions I wanted to ask, that’s kind of silly, is: who were some of your favorites to say over the years?
K: I think that Lehoux, because my daughter, who was keeping stats was always a big fan of his, so I might have given him a bit more. Certainly Mike Cammalleri, and Pavel Rosa, who was with the team for quite some time… those would be some that immediately come to mind. Colin Miller more recently, and Jordan Weal. Some of the ones that pop into my mind scoring goals and doing something creative on the ice. Those are the ones that immediately come to mind. I used to call Jared Smithson “The Babyfaced Assassin.” Sometimes people ask who I think the most significant player was in the history of the Monarchs, and you might be surprised at the answer to that question.
J: I would love to be surprised.
K: Okay. Ted Donato.
J: Ted Donato! I didn’t even remember him playing for the Monarchs.
K: First year of the Monarchs. Former Bruin, he’d never played in the minor leagues before he played for the Manchester Monarchs, he’d always been in the NHL. He played for Harvard and went right from Harvard to the NHL, played for the Bruins. And found himself out of a job at the start of the 2001-2002 season.
I remember when he joined the team in mid-November, while the first season was in progress. He joined the team on a Friday night, against the Norfolk Admirals, and the Monarchs lost that game 6-3. They were mired in a horrendous slump, they’d lost maybe eight in a row going into that game. So, they lost that one. After that game, the first game that Donato played, they got on the bus to go to Saint John, New Brunswick for a game the next night. Ted Donato had never taken a professional bus trip, other than going from the hotel to the arena in the NHL. He sat in the back of the bus, and I remember the players complaining because he was a real card shark, and he was winning all the money in the back of the bus on the way to Saint John. But he was instantly, despite that, a team leader, which at that time the team was lacking. He was very popular, the players looked up to him because of the NHL experience he had. He became the leader of the team, and that next game in Saint John he scored the game tying goal with .2 seconds left in that game, and wound up in a 2-2 tie, that was before shootouts. And on the bus back to Manchester after that game, you would have thought the Monarchs had won the Calder Cup. There was a whole new attitude, and he brought it to that team. And after that they reeled off like eight consecutive wins, and he had such a tremendous impact on that first year team, it was just amazing, the turnaround. Not that he stayed the whole season. He had 43 points in 36 games. The Monarchs had kind of rejuvenated his career, and he certainly was a big spark plug, and the Monarchs ended up making the playoffs. They didn’t think they would at one point in the season before he arrived, but they did.
The first playoff series they ever had in that first year against Hartford was a classic. It was a five game series against Hartford, there were overtime games, great goaltending on both ends. Travis Scott was the goaltender for the Monarchs then… lots of fights, in fact one of the games at the Verizon, Travis Scott and Scott Meyer, who was the goaltender for Hartford, got into a fight. And Max, our mascot, was thrown out of the building. It was orchestrated, that was the perception: that he was thrown out for banging against the glass of the penalty box! It was a classic five-game series, the first series the Monarchs were ever in. They lost the series 3-2 but it was a classic, some fans still talk about it. It was just a great, great series. But they would not have been there without Ted Donato, and actually he was back and playing in that series against Hartford. Then he went on to play for the Rangers and finished up with the Bruins organization.
J: That’s right, and now he’s been coaching Harvard ever since, right?
K: Yes. He had the most impact of any player. Other players have put up better numbers or done more or been more sensational, but Donato did the little things right, he was a very heady player and meant a lot to that first-year team.
J: Mike Cammalleri just returned to the Kings, and it made me think of his 109-point season with the Monarchs. He was out of his mind that year…
K: Oh, I know, he was something else. He was probably the most impressive player that we’ve ever seen in terms of the things he could do on the ice. I mean, his skating ability, his scoring ability, you’re not going to see too many players that… in fact, if it hadn’t been for the lockout year, he may not have even played in Manchester, who knows? I remember when the Monarchs hosted the AHL All-Star Game in 2004-05, he put on an amazing show. His stats don’t even begin to tell the story, just incredible.
J: He had a few great years in the NHL, too. I’m shocked he didn’t end up keeping that success going.
K: Yeah, he’s had a decent NHL career, but I think maybe his size has something to do with it, he’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s had a solid career. Many people would trade for his career. He’s kinda bounced around a little bit, but he certainly was impactful when he played for the Monarchs, that’s for sure. He was a lot of fun to be around on and off of the ice. I would have to say, one of the most popular players in Monarchs history.
J: That was another one where I feel like you put a lot of verve into announcing his goals.
K: Oh, absolutely. In fact, most of his goals were pretty sensational. They weren’t necessarily the “dirty goal” variety, but more shots from the face-off circle or the slot. Mike Cammalleri probably scored some of the most spectacular goals in Monarchs history.
J: Now we’re getting to the point where some of the guys who were with the team in the early years, Richard Seeley and Jeff Giuliano have come back to coach the team. How’s it feel to have those guys back coaching?
K: There’s another one, Giules…
J: The pride of Nashua, New Hampshire!
K: Yeah, being a local guy, Giuliano from Nashua. I think they’ve both done a fantastic job with this team. Putting it together two years ago, and the success that we’ve had. I mean, the first year with the success on the ice…we got beat in the first round that year by Adirondack, but still put a new team together in the league and assembled all the players and dealt with the injuries and the call-ups. They had a sensational first year, and they followed it up with an even better one with the playoff run this last season. They came within one game of going to the Kelly Cup Finals, so they have done just a terrific job.
I think they both have bright futures, if they want to go down that road and pursue coaching, and maybe an executive position in the game of hockey. I think they’ve proven at a relatively young age that they are more than capable of putting teams together. Not only putting teams together, but successful ones. They have a tremendous work ethic, they work extremely hard. At this level, they have to do everything, and I mean everything. They make the bus reservations, the hotel reservations, dinner reservations. They’re on the phone with contacts throughout the game of hockey about players that might be available…it’s just amazing. They work a lot and have a lot of responsibility, and a lot of stuff you don’t have to do if you go up the ladder. But at the ECHL level, the coach does just about everything. So, they have done a fantastic job, they really have. I’d love to see them stick around forever, but I think, probably, there’s gonna come a time that somebody’s going to come calling at a higher level and hire these guys.
J: I think that Rich Seeley and Jeff Giuliano would have to be near the top of most revered players in team history.
K: Absolutely. Seeley was a former captain. I used to do PA announcing for three years with the Lowell Lock Monsters before I got the radio job in Manchester, and Seeley was a member of the Lock Monsters. I remember from that far back. And now, here we are, traveling together all the time to the different places in the ECHL. Seels, I’ve known for a long time, and Giules, as well. They’re just a pleasure to be around, and they’ve done a fabulous job. They’re great strategists, and they’re outstanding coaches. They work hard with these players during practices and after practices. There’s a lot to it, it’s a very demanding job, and they have done it very well these last few years.
J: I’m going to do a few quick ones, and then I’m going to let you go. Number one: how do you remember all of the names?
K: Well, the home team you remember pretty well because you see them all the time, but I like to get the roster, if I can, in advance from the other team and you know what I usually do: I write the entire roster with the numbers several times. Just write out the names and numbers, and after a while you’ll see a team like Adirondack, over the years we’ve played them umpteen times, that becomes pretty second nature. They might intersperse a player or two here and there, but you get to know some of the teams. It used to be a lot easier in the old AHL days, you used to see the same teams several times. Preparation was a lot easier than it is now. I write the roster and I put them both on the same sheet of cardboard for every game and just take it from there. I always say, if you’re prepared, the game almost calls itself. I know that’s a crazy thing to hear, but if you know the names and the numbers of both teams, it’s not that difficult a game to call. People ask, “how do you keep up with it?” But if you know the names and numbers, and you’re prepared, I don’t think it’s that difficult a game to call. Because there aren’t as many variables in hockey as there are in other sports. Everybody thinks baseball is a very easy game to call, but it’s really not because there are so many things that can happen during the course of a game. I don’t know how many thousands of baseball games I’ve seen, but sometimes you see things that you’ve never seen before, to this day, in a baseball game. But there are only so many things, if you think about it, that can happen in a hockey game. There are going to be some nice passes, there’s going to be goals, saves, great fights. But there aren’t as many variables as in baseball, probably in football. I think because of the lack of variables in hockey and basketball, for example, they’re probably easier to call than baseball or football in my opinion. But you have to be prepared, because I’ve been burned when I haven’t known the other team and looked down for a second. And in hockey, if you look down for a split second, you can miss something very significant. So you try not to look down very much.
J: Okay, second one: favorite away arena?
K: I think I’d have to say Hershey in the AHL was my favorite. You could always count on the place selling out, the atmosphere there was always great. They were tough on the opponents. I mean, many times, I’ve seen fans go over the glass, sometimes behind the bench to try to get at a Monarchs player. I know some of the assistant coaches have had run-ins with Hershey fans, they’re very vocal, they’re very into it. But from my perspective, seeing 10,000 people at any game that you are there for, and the great vantage point that they have as well in Hershey, I think Hershey is my favorite AHL arena to visit.
Hartford, by far, was my least favorite, but I think I would have to say Hershey was certainly my favorite all time away arena in professional hockey.
J: I’ve been to the Giant Center before, and there were so many people in there, it was deafening, you can tell Hershey loves their team, and why wouldn’t they? They’ve been successful for a long time.
But it’s so weird, it’s surrounded by this giant parking lot. The Giant Center is this island in the middle of nothing. It’s right near the Hershey Chocolate factory, so everything smells like chocolate. You’d think that would pacify people a little bit, but it does not. It does not at all.
I can’t say I’ve ever had the displeasure of being to Hartford, though.
K: It’s not a bad place to watch a game if you’re a fan, but you’re as high as you can be in the building. The position of the broadcast booth, to me, was always very shaky, and you were very high up. And if you happened to make a false move up there, and knocked your mixer off the table or your iPad, not only would you never have it again, but you might kill somebody down below. Fortunately, a lot of people didn’t show up in Hartford over the years, and I didn’t ever lose anything, but it was always a bad location. First of all, you’re very far away, and it was tough to distinguish the numbers, sometimes you couldn’t recognize anybodys. But, I had to live with it, and we’d get through it, but it was certainly my least favorite venue in all of professional hockey, AHL or ECHL.
J: This is the most important question, Ken, that I will ever ask you: What’s the best restaurant in Manchester?
K: Best, or the one I frequent the most?
J: Well, if you frequent it the most, do you not think it’s the best?
K: Well, regarding the one I go to most, it’s the Red Arrow Diner. I love the Red Arrow, I’m there quite a bit, but in terms of quality of food…I’d say Cotton.
J: I’ve never been!
K: Cotton, in the mill yard on Commercial Street. It’s very, very good. Very delicious.
J: That’s a question that a lot of people are going to want to know the answer to, I think that Manchester has a very underrated restaurant scene.
K: Oh, there are a lot of good ones, there are. But Cotton, I’ve enjoyed it a lot over the years. Great service, excellent food, I’ve never had a bad meal at Cotton.
J: It really means a lot to me to have you be the first person I interview, because you were really my gateway into seriously following the sport. I started being a Blues fan when I was eight years old because my uncle liked the Blues. None of us are from St. Louis, I think he just liked Brett Hull, so I like Brett Hull, too. But I didn’t really follow the NHL in depth as a kid or even as a teenager. It wasn’t until I started working with the Monarchs broadcast that I really got into it because I felt like it was more personal to me, you know, and your voice.. I feel like a lot of people might say this about you around Manchester, but.. you are the voice of hockey, to me and to a lot of others.
K: That’s nice of you to say, I appreciate that.
J: I would love to be able to do this again down the road.