Some local hockey fans are trying to understand why the Manchester Monarchs are leaving town just days after winning the only league championship in their fifteen-year history.
Click through the slideshow above to see fan quotes and photos from the Monarchs' Calder Cup celebration at the Verizon Center Tuesday night.
But while the current Monarchs are taking the Calder Cup trophy with them to Ontario, California and taking on the name “Ontario Reign,” the current Ontario Reign is preparing to move into to the Verizon Wireless Center where they’ll become the new Manchester Monarchs.
Both the old and new Monarchs are owned by the parent company of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. But while the old Monarchs played in the American Hockey League – the top minor league in professional hockey – the new Monarchs are part of the 28-team ECHL (formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League), one league level down from the AHL.
“There isn’t going to be much of a drop-off (in talent),” said Jesse Leibman, an executive with the current Ontario Reign.
“In the AHL, players are just a step away from playing with the big team. In the ECHL, they may be three or four steps away. They may be too small or maybe they haven’t developed all the skills yet.”
Longtime Monarchs broadcaster Ken Cail said fans should expect to see great goaltending with the new Monarchs’ team.
“It’s a little bit more open than the AHL, the defensemen are not as polished so you get more two-on-one, or three-on-twos,” he said.
“And I haven’t checked the box scores but I think there’s more fighting maybe… I attribute that it fact that very few of these guys have huge contacts. So they’re out there ever night literally fighting for their survival in professional hockey.”
Leibman said his old Ontario Reign – the new Monarchs – have been competitive.
“During our existence, in five out of the seven years, we won the regular seasons title four times.”
The team has won several division and semi-division titles, and this year, lost in game seven of the league’s western conference finals.
He also addressed concerns about a potential attendance drop accompanying the new team to Manchester.
“Last season, we drew an average of 8,158 fans,” Leibman said, ”That was the first time any ECHL team was able to crack the 8,000 average in years.”
This season, the Monarchs drew an average of 4,700 fans per game – above the AHL average but not among the top tier – while the Ontario Reign, the new Monarchs, attracted almost twice as many fans as the ECHL average.
According to Jason Jones, Senior Director of ticket sales for the Monarchs, all indicators point to strong attendance for the 2015-2016 season.
“We’ve already reached 90% of last year’s pre-season sales,” he said, adding that the new Monarchs team had sold more new season tickets (as opposed to renewals) than any other ECHL team.
Jones also said the front office made the decision to cut season ticket prices by fifteen percent in order to be in line with other ECHL teams.
Ray Carbone is a long-time New Hampshire writer, editor and producer who regularly contributes to the Boston Globe, New England Boating magazine and NHPR. His newest book, “Legendary Locals of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region,” has just been released. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org