MANCHESTER, H – Even though Manchester no longer has a professional hockey team, it still has a professional hockey team booster club. At least for now.
Last month, the Manchester Monarchs Booster Club met at the Airport Diner for what is currently their last scheduled meeting.
While the AHL edition of the Monarchs had been gone for several years, the club remains part of the Association of AHL Booster Clubs or AAHLBC, with the club meeting coming on the heels of hosting the AAHLBC annual convention in Nashua.
Club President Dan O’Grady hoped that the Monarchs would be returning for another year after seeing Manchester appear on other teams’ schedules for the 2019-’20 season and getting solicitations for season ticket sales from the team.
“When we got the email that they were ceasing operations, it was kind of heartbreaking for us,” he said. “After so many years supporting the team, it was a shock that they were gone.”
O’Grady lives in Salem and before becoming a Monarchs fan, he attended AHL games in Lowell before that team left town. He intends to go to Glens Falls, N.Y. this season to see several members of last year’s Monarchs squad as the play for the Indy Fuel against the Adirondack Thunder.
He also has season tickets for UMass Lowell games, but admits that it’s not quite the same.
“College hockey is a different animal,” he said. “It’s enjoyable to watch UMass Lowell games, but I’d like to watch professional games too. This year though, it’s mainly going to be college hockey.”
Opinions within the club differ over whether there will ever be another professional hockey team in Manchester ever again. Former Club Officer Melissa Leceese thinks the most likely path for a new club would be enticing a move by the Atlanta Gladiators, the Boston Bruins’ current ECHL franchise, and an upgraded video screen at SNHU Arena.
Leceese has been with the booster club since the very beginning of the Monarchs’ days in the AHL, seeing the decline from having some of the highest attendance figures in the AHL near the beginning of the 21st century to what was the second-lowest attendance in the ECHL last year.
She blames the economic crisis and a lack of early playoff success for much of the team’s waning attendance during the AHL years, but thinks the transition from the AHL to the ECHL is what caused the most damage to hockey in Manchester. In particular, she notes that the lack of adjusted ticket prices and poor communication over the fact that Manchester still had a team after the AHL left is what caused the most damage.
“There were a lot of things we heard, that people were upset how things were handled,” she said. “We talked to management, but once people’s feelings are hurt, there’s only so much you can do. Sometimes those rifts are difficult to mend.”
Club member Holly Dambaugh doesn’t think the Gladiators will be enough. Dambaugh would support any new professional team, but thinks that Manchester would not support any new professional team unless it was in the AHL. And she thinks that’s unlikely due to the fact that most NHL teams have moved their AHL affiliates further west. But she still has hope.
“I’m on the fence about professional hockey ever coming back here. I think it left a bitter taste in people’s mouths,” she said. “I’m praying it comes back. We spent winters there, I was at every game.”
However, regardless of whether there will be another professional hockey team, the booster club expects it will live on to continue its charitable efforts in the greater Manchester area.
In past years, the club has offered scholarships to young hockey players and volunteered at area soup kitchens, building a camaraderie that extends beyond the rink.
“Our club will survive because our major purpose isn’t just the team. We’re here to serve the community and that is our purpose,” said Dambaugh. “Having a relationship with the team was good, it was nice to meet the players and we’re here to support them, but the point of this isn’t us, it’s the community.”
More information on the club is available on its Facebook page.