Farewell, Monarchs

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Last week the Manchester Monarchs concluded their season, falling at the hands of the Newfoundland Growlers. This week, they announced what many expected, but hoped would not come to pass: the Manchester Monarchs will not return next year.

It’s May 15, 2019, welcome to Monarchs Country for one last time.

ECHL Eastern Conference Semifinals

April 26, Game 1: Manchester 3, Newfoundland 2 (Road)

April 27, Game 2: Newfoundland 4, Manchester 2 (Road)

April 30, Game 3: Newfoundland 4, Manchester 2 (Home)

May 1, Game 4: Newfoundland 4, Manchester 3 (Home)

May 3, Game 5: Manchester 2, Newfoundland 1 (Home – Exeter/Overtime)

May 6, Game 6: Newfoundland 5, Manchester 1 (Road)

Newfoundland took seven of eight games over Manchester during the regular season, with a mix of wins early and late in that regular season as the periphery of both teams’ rosters varied. So, it made sense to believe that a playoff rematch would run along largely similar lines.

However, the Monarchs refused to give up without a fight, quite literally in Game 1 when Bokondji Imama’s pair of goals and goading James Melindy into a misconduct proved pivotal to stealing a game north of the border.

In a way, it was a lucky win, a win that Monarchs head coach Doug Christensen thought was not one of his team’s best performances. Even if it wasn’t the momentum it garnered was quickly lost after a streak of outcomes that left Manchester on the brink.

Like last year’s team, this final edition of the Monarchs relied on its speed, focusing breakaways and sheer volume of shots over a more physical approach.

Over long stretches of Game 2, 3 and 4, the two teams slogged to a standstill, with Newfoundland leaving the game within reach despite generally controlling the flow and disrupting Manchester’s rhythm.

Excluding late empty net goals, the Monarchs lost each game by just one goal. But games that could have been won just weren’t, perhaps best exemplified by three power play goals that  just cannot be given to a team as talented as Newfoundland.

“The physicality of Newfoundland and the physicality of playoff hockey was not as important as their ability to generate and score off small mistakes,” said Christiansen. “To me, it was the small mistakes, a penalty here, a turnover there, was the difference to them getting the winning goal in a game or not. Against Newfoundland it was a heavyweight battle. If we had won the series, we’d be talking about the things we did really well to frustrate them. But when you’re answering questions in the opposite.”

It might be cliché to say it, but if those key lapses had been avoided and there were just a few more positive moments here and there, the series could have swung the other way.

“I think in the regular season, it was very similar to how the series played out, when Newfoundland had opportunities they generally scored and it took us more opportunities for us to score than it did for them,” said Christiansen. “Therefore, in a tight-checking series, the way it wound up played out, they made their opportunities to make a series win.”

Facing elimination and a monster truck rally that stole home like it has every time during the second round of the playoffs since transitioning to the ECHL, the Monarchs went to the Rinks at Exeter for Game 5.

The Monarchs had played pre-season games there in the past, this year almost as a defacto road team to the expansion Maine Mariners (an advertisement for the Mariners hung on the walls of the rink during Game 5), but the intimacy compared to the relative sparseness at SNHU provided an extra energy.

Crowds at SNHU Arena were two to three times the size of that in Exeter, but SNHU Arena itself also had about ten times the capacity, creating a dynamic that Monarchs captain David Kolomatis compared to a high school varsity game.

Kolomatis spent eight of the last ten years primarily in Manchester, with one season in Finland, one season with Hershey in the AHL and a pair of brief AHL callups to Providence and Toronto along the way.

He took the first goal in that game, and although the Growlers tied things up, Pierre-Luc Mercier provided the game winner just moments into overtime.

Two wins in Saint Johns seemed like a tall task, but at that moment it seemed possible. Three days later, those hopes were dashed.

Zach O’Brien had two goals for the Growlers before the first intermission and had a hat trick before the second intermission, as only Tony Cameranesi’s third period goal prevented a shutout in what ultimately became Manchester’s final game.

Attendance fell over Manchester’s four years in the ECHL after the AHL version of the franchise moved to California following their 2015-’16 Calder Cup win. This season, the Monarchs were second to last in attendance, with 88,501 fans in attendance over 36 regular season home games.

The Wheeling Nailers were last in the league with total attendance of 81,541. However, their home, Wesbanco Arena, only holds about half as many people as SNHU Arena does at full capacity.

For the players and staff, that fact and rumors that the team could be dying was not a matter of much importance.

“For me, I try to focus on the things I can control, and we talked to the players about that all the time, ‘what can you control?’,” said Christiansen. “Worrying about things like attendance or things away from the rink or guys getting called up, unless it had something to do with your family or something really important to you, we wanted to be locked in and dialed into the task at hand.”

The 2018-’19 Monarchs finished with a record of 39-29-2-2, putting them between 82 and 88 points during each of their four years in the ECHL. They made the Kelly Cup Playoffs each year, facing Adirondack each year, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016-’17.

They finished with an all-time ECHL regular season record of 156-102-16-14 with an all-time franchise record of 706-456-64-61 along with 29 ties during their first three years of existence.

 

Three Stars of the Series

Top Star: Pierre-Luc Mercier (3 G, 1 GWG, 1 A, +2, 21 SOG)

Second Star: Tony Cameranesi (1 G, 3 A, -1, 23 SOG)

Third Star: Kevin Dufour (2 G, 1 A, +1, 15 SOG)

Three Stars of the Year

Top Star: Nic Pierog (32 G, 3 PPG, 1 GWG, 22 A, -6, 199 SOG)

Second Star: Charles Williams (2609 mins., 26-14-1, 2.71 GAA, 3 SO, .919% SV)

Third Star: David Kolomatis (14 G, 6 GWG 29 A, -5, 141 SOG)