MANCHESTER, NH – The Manchester Monarchs’ season ended in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals, falling 4-3 in a hard fought battle with the South Carolina Stingrays at home. Despite this less-than-ideal ending, which saw the Monarchs drop three out of four home games to the Rays, 2016-17 can easily be considered the Monarchs’ best ECHL campaign to date. Although their regular season spot in the standings dropped from their inaugural showing (from first in ’15-’16 to fourth in ’16-’17,) the difference in overall points between the seasons was only two. The Monarchs’ 85 points in 2016-17 would have still put them in first place last year, and their advancement to the Eastern Conference championship was a certain improvement over their first round ouster in last year’s campaign. A first round revenge victory over bitter rivals the Adirondack Thunder made this postseason all the sweeter for the Monarchs.
But with the playoffs now over and the Colorado Eagles having hoisted the Kelly Cup, it’s time to look ahead to next year’s schedule, recently released by the ECHL.
The most notable difference in the upcoming season will be the presence of the Worcester Railers, who are joining the North Division in place of the now-defunct Elmira Jackals. The Railers, an affiliate of the NHL’s New York Islanders, are a new expansion team to the ECHL and mark a return of hockey to Worcester’s DCU Center for the first time
since the departure of the Worcester Sharks to San Jose in 2015. This move was part of the AHL’s westward expansion which saw the Ontario Reign take over the Monarchs’ status as AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, as well. As the Railers currently have no official
roster (aside from goaltender Joe Fallon, the team’s first-ever signing,) there are a lot of unknowns as far as this squad is concerned, but there is little doubt that the rival status between the Manchester and Worcester hockey clubs will pick up right where it left
off in the AHL, as the Monarchs and Railers face off a total of 15 times in the coming schedule, with eight of those games played in the Monarchs’ SNHU Arena.
Not surprisingly, the Adirondack Thunder make up the next highest percentage of the Monarchs’ games. In the past two seasons the teams have been heated rivals, playing 30 regular season games. The Monarchs hold a record of 14-14-1-1 in those games, demonstrating just how hard-fought this rivalry has been. Last year, the Thunder took nine wins from the Monarchs, a major contributing factor in their 93-point, first-place finish in the North Division. In fact, these two teams’ success against one another has been an indicator of their success as a whole, and that isn’t expected to change in 2017-18.
Other division rivals Brampton, Reading, and Wheeling make up 19 games of the Monarchs’ schedule. The Monarchs had the Reading Royals’ number this past season, having taken six straight wins before dropping their first game to the Royals in late January. Overall, the Monarchs took home 17 of a possible 20 points against the Royals, which helped to keep them in the playoff hunt. The Brampton Beast, the Monarchs’ second round playoff opponents, only played three games against Manchester, with the Monarchs finishing 1-1-1-0 on the year. The Wheeling Nailers hosted the Monarchs in their one and only contest, a 4-3 win for Wheeling. Manchester will see much more of the Nailers in the upcoming season, as they are scheduled to face off six times.
The Norfolk Admirals, whose former AHL incarnation has history with the Monarchs’ organization, return yet again as a six-time opponent of Manchester. The two teams split eight regular season match-ups last year, with half of those games decided after regulation. The Admirals finished last in the South Division, and the Monarchs would do well to win more games against this type of opponent in the future, to offset losses against higher quality opponents.
Other returning opponents from last year: Eastern Conference Champions, the South Carolina Stingrays (2-2-1), Atlanta Gladiators (1-1), and the Greenville Swamp Rabbits (0-0-1). The Monarchs have been middling against teams outside of their division in the past, and look to improve upon these numbers in order to improve on their standing. They’ll also face a tough test against Western Conference playoff teams, the Utah Grizzlies and the Toledo Walleye, the latter having held the best record in the ECHL last season (though the two teams will only face off once, in Toledo.)
After winning the AHL’s Calder Cup in their final season in the league, the future was uncertain for the Monarchs. But coaches (and former Monarchs players) Richard Seeley and Jeff Giuliano (the pride of Nashua, NH) have steered the ship well in their first two campaigns behind the bench. Though the rosters for the upcoming campaign have not been set, Seeley and Giuliano have shown that they can adapt to the sometimes tumultuous roster changes within the LA Kings’ organization. With excellent late-season and playoff showings from latecomers Colton Saucerman, Tyler Sikura, and Thomas Schemitsch, the Monarchs have found a way to overcome the losses of strong contributors such as Derek Arnold, Rihards Bukarts, and Justin Agosta.
If the Monarchs can find a way to be more successful against the Thunder, and can pick up a few more wins to out-of-division teams, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be back in the hunt for the North Division championship again this year. Coaches Seeley and Giuliano had a great deal of success in 2016-17 despite a high turnover within the core of the Monarchs, which included: an entirely new goalie corps, the loss of their highest scorer in Maxim Kitsyn, and a decimation of their defensive squad with the losses of Mike Boivin, Alex Roach, Matt Mackenzie, and Yann Sauve. No matter what happens in the offseason, the Monarchs will likely be a force in the ECHL once again.
The Monarchs open their home schedule against the Worcester Railers on October 21 at SNHU Arena.
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