MANCHESTER, NH – As soon as the doors of the Verizon Wireless Arena opened at 5 p.m. there was a rush on Monarchs swag, the line snaking out of the Pro Shop before the celebration even started Tuesday night. Fans wanted to grab whatever “Calder Cup Championship” gear they could get their hands on, which for Celestia St. Hilaire of Manchester, meant five shirts, two hats, two pucks and some coasters.
“I’ve been a season ticket holder since day one,” said St. Hilaire, who was ready to party like it was the first – and last – Calder Cup championship celebration in Manchester.
Because it was.
On Saturday the Monarchs sealed the deal, winning game 5 in the series against the Utica Comets, 2 to 1 and ending their 15 seasons as Manchester’s home team with a big bang.
An estimated 2,500 fans joined the celebration, cheering loudly, clanging cowbells and snapping photos, as each team member was introduced and made their way to the stage. Players slapped high-fives with fans of all ages, and many of them remembered to touch or kiss the Calder Cup – which was on display in the front of the arena – as they passed by it.
Mayor Ted Gatsas was there and read a resolution recognizing the Monarchs – he also commended team mascot Max, as “the best mascot” in the AHL.
Monarchs head coach Mike Stothers also took a few minutes to address his team, after an ovation from the crowd, saying how there were plenty of naysayers back in September, who didn’t think the Monarchs had what it took to be a winning team.
“After we broke training camp, we spent a good month and a half before we got into the Verizon Center, and I knew right away this was a special group of guys,” Stothers said. “You know what, when you’ve got a group like this – and I’m telling you, they worked – and they skated and they played hard and they played big and we were fast, and we were pretty goddamn good, too.”
The grand finale was hoisting the Calder Cup 2015 championship banner into the air, and the whole team gathered around to help pull the ropes, as the crowd went wild.
“We are Monarchs. We are Monarchs,” they chanted, snapping photos and watching as the huge black banner fluttered into the rafters, where it will hang as a reminder of the amazing finale to what was a wonderful run for Manchester’s Monarchs.
Next season the “new” Monarchs will take the ice as a part of the East Coast Hockey League. Many fans on hand Tuesday said they’d already purchased tickets for next season, including Tom Laberge, who lingered in the stands as everyone else filtered out.
“I’m enjoying the moment,” said Laberge, who said he’s been a fan of the Monarchs since they arrived. “They really deserved it, from the beginning. They gave 110 percent. Yes, I’m disappointed to see them leave, but I already bought my tickets for next year. They need our support.”