Mae West said, “The score never interested me, only the game.” Many of us are sports fans, from the casual follower of games to the people who track stats and box scores on home spreadsheets, we all feel that certain magic that sports bring to us.
I am one of those people in between. I love sports and am a fan of New England teams as well as my “second” teams that all call Chicago home. But I also love the Monarchs and the Fisher Cats, and although neither are affiliates of our beloved New England teams, they are still fun to watch, they offer family-friendly games at a relatively low cost – and they are our teams! They are Manchester’s teams. (Even though the Fisher Cats are a “New Hampshire” team, they call MHT home).
I was so excited to see the Monarchs win the Calder Cup! The team has almost always been near or at the top of the league during the regular season and advanced to the post-season in all but one season, (13 of 14 isn’t bad at all). They got a Cup win in their last year in the AHL! Thinking about this past season as the Monarch’s last in the AHL is where it gets a bit sad for me. The team that brought pro-hockey to the city – and to the state – and brought many adoring fans to the Verizon, will no longer be a member of the American Hockey League. No more playing the rival Providence Bruins, no more playing teams like Portland, Springfield, or Worcester (who also lost their AHL team).
We are losing our AHL franchise because the Western Conference teams of the National Hockey League (NHL) felt it was better (and more cost effective), to have their primary development players closer to them. So the Monarchs players we had will now play in Ontario, California, for the Reign while our beloved Monarchs will get the former Reign players and will become an East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) team. While the ECHL is a development league of the NHL, and the players are quality professional hockey players, it is still a step-down for Manchester. This would be like moving the Fisher Cats from AA-level baseball to single-A (think Lowell Spinners or Vermont Lake Monsters). This is not something that should happen to Manchester.
Some people think that I’m putting too much thought into this, but the fact is that we, the taxpayers, paid to build an arena that would be home to an AHL-level team. The Verizon is an AHL arena, and although it hosts other things, it was primarily built for AHL hockey. Manchester is not an ECHL city, we are an AHL city that not only loves to see our Monarchs in action, but loves the AHL rivalries.
My primary concern is the future of pro hockey in Manchester. What happens when the agreement with the Los Angeles Kings (parent organization of both the AHL and ECHL teams) expires in 2021? That is less than six years away, which may seem like a while but really isn’t. This means that Manchester has less than six years to figure out what is next. We could have an empty 11,000-plus seat arena. (Okay, maybe not totally empty, but not having hockey would be a huge hit that would mean a loss of significant revenue for the arena – and for the city).
I have always been uneasy about having an affiliate of a West Coast team, not because there is anything wrong with the left coast teams, but rather because of what is happening now. My question has always been why a team would locate their primary development affiliate on the opposite coast. I do not know the behind-the-scenes of why the Kings decided to put a team in Manchester, but it never quite made sense to me.
I do not blame the Kings organization, the Monarchs front office, or arena officials for this. The responsibility for the arena lies with Manchester’s elected officials, since the city owns it. The Manchester hockey team level is an economic development issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
In addition to the hockey team, the city also needs – and has hopefully already started – considering an extension with Verizon Wireless or a new naming partner for the soon to be expiring contract. The $11.4 million naming rights deal with Verizon Wireless that was signed back in November 2001 expires next November (2016). The current naming rights are worth about $760,000 per year. This in addition to loss in revenue from a now possibly smaller hockey fan base would be a problem for the city, (not everyone will support the Monarchs in the ECHL). And a Manchester without pro hockey would spell certain doom for the arena, and deal a serious blow to economic development in Manchester.
The city elected officials need to use this as an opportunity to showcase to East Coast or Middle America-based AHL hockey teams the greatness of Manchester and why they should call our city home. Start now…
Let’s keep Manchester moving forward!
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About the author: Brian Chicoine is a New Hampshire native who moved to Manchester from Raymond in 1980 at the age of 8. He attended Gossler Park Elementary, Parkside and Southside Junior High, and West High, from which he graduated in 1990. After attending Notre Dame College in Manchester, Brian completed his undergraduate degree at Rhode Island College in Providence. Brian and his wife Jackie then came to Manchester in 2004 and were involved in various outreach organizations. Their two boys were born in Manchester during this time. After his position was eliminated in 2009, Brian and his family returned to Rhode Island. They have been living in Providence since 2010. Brian and his family love Manchester and are planning on returning within the next few months. Brian is currently working at helping the city move forward by connecting with other stakeholders and becoming involved with like-minded groups. Brian is also laying the foundation for an organization that will help strengthen the city and help it move forward.
Brian holds a Bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College and a Master of Public Administration degree from Grand Canyon University. Brian currently works at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is also founder of a Facebook Group, Manchester Forward. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.