MANCHESTER, NH – Ken Cail has called every Manchester Monarchs game and is one of the most recognizable voices in southern New Hampshire.
The Sin Bin’s Josh Heistman interviewed Cail recently, in a chat that went well over 90 minutes. You can read part one of their conversation, here: https://thesinbin.net/a-sitdown-with-the-voice-of-the-monarchs-ken-cail/
In part two, Cail recalls the American Hockey League chapter of the Monarchs hockey story.
Josh Heistman: What was it like being there for the beginning of the team? What was it like in that first year?
Ken Cail: Well, it was right in the aftermath of 9/11, and I do remember the first 13 games were on the road because the Verizon Wireless (now SNHU Arena) and not been completed. Actually, our first 14 were scheduled to be on the road, but we got blacked out of a game in Bridgeport when the power had gone out, so we had to reschedule for later in the season. The first game we ever played was in Lowell against the Lock Monsters. And my color commentator for that first game was Pat Burns, the former Bruins coach. My color commentators for that first year were Pat Burns and Rick Middleton, the former Bruin. So, that was a mind-boggling experience too, doing the first Monarchs game against Lowell, my first live hockey broadcast, and here I am sitting next to a legendary coach like Pat Burns. That was intimidating. Not as intimidating as Bob Wilson, but sitting next to a hockey legend like Pat Burns and the way he knew the game, I learned a lot about hockey. He was a great mentor.
But, by the end of the broadcast, I was losing my voice. I hardly had a voice at all at the end of the game. I wasn’t sick, I didn’t have a sore throat, but for whatever reason, I started to lose my voice in the third period, and lost it almost completely to the point where I couldn’t talk at all the next day. Fortunately, we did not have a game for a week after that. So, if we had had a game the next night, the streak would have been over at one. But we did have a week off, so I had time to recuperate.
Our first real road trip was to Norfolk, VA. Bruce Boudreau was the coach at the time. The management wanted to fly us down to Norfolk, but Bruce thought it would be more of a bonding experience with the team if we took the bus down, because Bruce was a big team bonding guy. So, the game was on Friday, and we took the bus on Tuesday to Norfolk, and it’s probably a good thing we did. We went through New York City, and this is just in the aftermath of 9/11. Cars and trucks were being pulled over at all kinds of checkpoints along the way, and so traffic was brutal going through New York. Bruce was always playing the movies, you know, Bruce, the movies on the bus. He was always doing that, and Slap Shot was always one of his favorites because he was actually in Slap Shot.
J: I didn’t know that!
K: Yeah, no speaking role but he was on the ice for a while as a hockey player. So, anyway, we saw Slap Shot quite a bit. But we saw three movies on the Major Deegan Highway in New York; we probably saw three movies in about five miles. So, it was a long, tedious trip to Norfolk, VA. But it was in Norfolk that the Monarchs won their first game, so it was worth the trip. But that first year was magical; the place was full almost every night. The only tickets that were available in any quantity were for weeknight games, but even on weeknights we would cross 7,000-8,000…those first few years, the attendance was incredible. Led the league or were right up there with Hershey regarding league leaders in attendance. The fan support was beyond belief, more than anybody could have anticipated for the first four or so years of the franchise.
J: I don’t know if you’ll remember this, and it’s fine if you don’t, but there was one game I produced with you where the Zamboni got stuck on the ice, and I think the game got delayed for an hour.
K: Oh my gosh, you had to put up with all that? That was in Springfield. There was a divot in the ice, and I remember saying some pretty ridiculous things, but I had to fill the time. I remember saying they were calling in some of the top Zamboni experts in the country to fix the issue, stuff like that. But that was a long time to fill, an hour or so.
J: Was that the longest delay you ever had?
K: Yeah. In 16 years, that was the longest delay we’d ever had…it was unbelievable. We had to fill the time as best we could. And I was working by myself, so I didn’t have anybody to play off, and nobody to track down interviews or anything like that. So, it was a long delay, had to be at least an hour. In fact, Jeff Eisenberg, when next I saw him, I asked him, and he said, “You did an unbelievable job filling that time, I was cracking up at some of the things you were saying.”
J: I remember feeding you scores or just anything we could find.
K: Yeah, that was an arduous hour.
J: Let’s talk about the Calder Cup season because it couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to the American Hockey League run.
K: That was the fourteenth and final year, of course, in the AHL. That was amazing, and you could not have scripted it any better. Obviously, winning the Cup at home, perhaps, but it was in Utica, NY. But there were so many emotions, very sad about the AHL franchise coming to an end and the ECHL coming in, but the joy of winning the Calder Cup. Just a tremendous team there at the time. Brian O’Neill, you can’t say enough about the season he had. Jordan Weal and Colin Miller, just a great bunch of guys and they all put together terrific seasons. J.F. Berube in goal and Patrik Bartosak came along when Berube got hurt in the finals and played very well. It was just a season where everything came together. Mike Stothers in his only season as coach of the Monarchs, and it was just an incredible season, you couldn’t have asked for anything more. And the team was just a juggernaut; you never felt like we were out of a game with the personnel we had from top to bottom on that roster. It was really a deep team, and some of them have gone on to play in the NHL, but not a whole lot, really. But at that level, it was just a tremendous team.
J: Was there a point in the season where you got the feeling that this was going to be the team, that this was going to be the one?
K: You know, you don’t like to tell yourself that, because most of the time, you’re going to be in for a letdown. But this team, I really did believe in and felt that all things being equal and these players could stay healthy, that we could maintain the nucleus. We had great guys on defense as well as the scoring depth. We had Vincent LoVerde and Andrew Bodnarchuk on defense, and Kevin Gravel, Derek Forbort…so deep up front and on defense. Berube played well in goal, and it was just an incredibly well put-together team, and Mike Stothers did a terrific job coaching them, and Chris Hajt was the assistant coach…they were a terrific team, and still are. A very close-knit team regarding the guys on it, good guys, and it was just a pleasure to be around them, and I’m happy for them. I’m happy for everybody involved in the organization, who had been there for many years. Matt Welch was president of the team, been there for a long time. I had been there for a long time. Other people had been, as well, and I was happy for everybody. Mike Olsen, the equipment manager, and Michael Muir, the trainer. Everybody involved in the team was so instrumental in its success, and there was such a great celebration after the game. And the postgame show, I didn’t make it through the postgame show without crying…It was hard not to be emotional for me, and my daughter Melissa was there, who had kept stats for me for many years. She was a big fan, so she was there. She lived in Brooklyn at the time, and she drove up for that game, and to have her in the booth with me at the end of the broadcast was meaningful, too. It was just so emotional, and it was amazing winning the series over Utica…but you knew it was the end of an era that day, also, so there were just so many emotions at the time.
J: Now, Utica, that was their second season, I believe.
K: We had never crossed paths with them before, we played them in the Final, but they were in the Western Conference, and we had never played them. Adirondack at that time was in the AHL, and in the Western Conference, too, which was weird! So we never saw either of them, so we didn’t know what to expect except from video. But the atmosphere was good, a small building in Utica, but they packed the place all the time.
J: I have family in Utica, and they were always sharing news articles about how there were lines around the block to get into that building, especially during the playoffs, so it must have been similar to how it was during the first few years of the Monarchs.
K: Absolutely! Tickets were hard to come by, even for players and staff of the Monarchs, because there weren’t that many tickets available.
J: The Utica Memorial Auditorium, seats 4,000?
K: Yeah, less than 4, yeah. 3,700 (officially 3,860 – JH). It was a good atmosphere. You wouldn’t want it to be in a cavernous building where there are 5,000 people with 5,000 empty seats. To win it in the kind of atmosphere was special, and it’s just a night I’ll never forget. I remember one of the AHL staff members came up while I was still doing my post game show and put a hat on me, that Championship cap, so that was kinda fun. You know, later on, a couple of months later, the rings were distributed in Manchester, so it was thrilling to get a Championship ring.
J: When did you ever sleep after that?
K: There wasn’t too much sleep on the ride back from Utica. There were two buses: one for the players, and one for the staff. I was fortunate to be on the staff bus. I understand the players’ bus was pretty wild.
J: I can imagine.
K: I mean, we had some fun on the staff bus, too, but certainly, not to the extent that the players did, I can guarantee that. But we felt a lot better the next day, too, than they did. And then I don’t think the celebration stopped, because Monday or Tuesday of the following week we had the big celebration at the arena, and that was quite a night, too.
J: More crying.
K: Yeah, yeah. But, it was great to see the turnout of people there. I was in communication with some people on Facebook where we were on the way home to let people know when the bus was going to arrive. The fan support was amazing until the end of the AHL era, and hopefully, we’ll get that back.
I know that it was a blow to a lot of people, and some people will say that they’ll never go to an ECHL game, but I honestly find the ECHL games very entertaining and very competitive. And I think hockey fans that say they’ll never come to an ECHL game, I believe they’re missing out. I really do.