MANCHESTER, NH – After a successful inaugural season, the Manchester Monarchs are poised for a big sophomore season in the ECHL. Their first season in the ECHL was a largely considered a success, despite a bit of a transition phase from the AHL to the ECHL. On the ice, the team sported a 39-24-4-5 record (87 points) and won the north division. In their first appearance in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Monarchs were eliminated in five games by the Adirondack Thunder.
It was a good first season for the Monarchs at the turnstyles. The team averaged 4,622 fans per game during the regular season and 3,686 in attendance during the ECHL playoffs. Matt Johnson, Public Relations Coordinator for the Monarchs, thought the first year attendance numbers were a success.
“When you move down a league, there is pressure to sell more tickets. The team did lower their ticket prices,” Johnson said. “You’re gonna lose fans here and there every year, especially when moving down a league. Where we were at the end of the year was pretty comfortable. Our playoff attendance figures were comparable to where they were in the AHL and people started realizing that the product was a good product on the ice.”
There was a little bit of drop off in season tickets last season, as the team lost about 100 season tickets from the AHL. Johnson believes the team led the ECHL in new season tickets last season. Like every other team, the Monarchs are working to improve on their season ticket base during the offseason and in years ahead, but are cognizant of the fact that this will not happen overnight. Given the team’s success on the ice last season, the team is starting in a drastically better position as opposed to last season, when they were shifting leagues.
The first year in a new league is always learning curve, but the team feels more comfortable in everything they can do now. The Monarchs will start a new six-year lease beginning this season with Verizon Wireless Arena, soon to be called Southern New Hampshire University Arena. The arena’s name chance will happen in July when Verizon’s lease ends with the arena.
On the ice, the Los Angeles Kings have been the Manchester Monarchs NHL affiliate since when they entered the AHL during the 2001-2002 season. The team is led by Head Coach Richard Seeley, who was in the running for ECHL Coach of the Year. He is always in contact with the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Ontario, CA and the guys in L.A. about player development, player movement and other issues. Almost half of the Monarchs game-day roster last season was comprised of players who are in the L.A. Kings system.
Former NHL defenseman and Kings Vice President/Assistant General Manager Rob Blake as well as Senior Advisor/Development Coach Mike O’Connell made several trips to Manchester this past season to check in on the team and see how things were progressing. Johnson says the hands-on treatment is important “to show our team that people are watching them. They don’t feel just cause your 3,000 miles away doesn’t mean anybody is watching,” he said. “That’s how they built their two Stanley Cup Championships recently and were trying to continue that out here.”
In addition to putting a good product on the ice, the Monarchs work hard to deepen and foster relationships within the community. Johnson says the players are not just a part of a team, but they are also a part of the community.
“Be apart of the city they live in and play in. There is more access to the players cause its a little less structured in that sense. The fans can get to know the players better. They can get closer to them at different events with the players that you couldn’t necessarily do in the AHL because of the structures,” Johnson says.
Another thing the Monarchs can capitalize on is the expanding footprint of the ECHL in the northeast United States. In addition to divisional foes in Elmira, NY, Brampton, Ontario, Reading, PA and Norfolk, VA; the ECHL will add the Worcester Railers HC during the 17-18 season and have their sights set on a potential franchise in Portland, Maine.
“We’re really excited about Worcester. That’s a definite rivalry we have with them being only about 45 minutes away. It will cut down with our travel. It will cut down on 3-in-3 weekends because you can just kind of pop down for a night here and there. Back in the AHL, those were great games. Their (Worcester) fans would come to our place. Our fans would go down to their place.” Johnson said.
Currently, the closest rival to Manchester is the Adirondack Thunder, who play in Glens Falls, NY, is a five-hour drive away. The two teams played 15 times this past regular season, and five more times in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Suffice it to say, the teams have developed a healthy rivalry, despite their distance from each other.
The 2016-2017 ECHL schedule is already out for next season, and as you might expect, the Monarchs and Thunder will waste no time in resuming their rivalry. Faceoff for the first game of the season is set for 7pm on Friday, October 14. Some of the Monarchs’ games on Saturday nights will be at 6pm, while a few of the Friday night games will start at 7:30pm. Johnson says this is done to allow people who worked to come to the games without feeling rushed.
“The brand of hockey is quite good,” Johnson says. “I like to tell people a lot that everybody in the ECHL is one half step away from the AHL but everybody in the AHL is not one half step away from the NHL. The players are great and its fast. It’s fun. It’s a good take. It’s definitely worth at least one time to just check it out.”
The Monarchs are hoping that sales pitch, coupled with budding rivalries and on-ice success, is the recipe for a wealth of success for years to come.