New Hampshire prepares for a winter without professional hockey

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Karen Banker watches the game in Exeter with her family. – photo/Andrew Sylvia

EXETER, NH – Recently, professional hockey returned to the State of New Hampshire. Unfortunately for the Granite State’s hockey fans, it may not come back for a while.

The ECHL’s Maine Mariners travelled to the Rinks at Exeter on Oct. 5 for their only pre-season game against the Worcester Railers. While the Mariners lost 4-1, for some fans in attendance, the game itself was overshadowed by the hole left by the Manchester Monarchs’ end of operations last spring.

Karen Banker of Nashua was in Exeter and she attended all but two Monarchs’ home games last year. When she first heard the news, it was a matter of heartbreak. Now, it’s a matter of how she’ll occupy her winter.

Banker has tickets to the Railers, the UMass Lowell River Hawks’ hockey games and may even travel up to Portland for Mariners games. But none of those options can serve as a direct replacement for what she lost.

“Will Manchester get back a team? Lord, I hope so,” she said. “My husband heard that we may not get another team until 2024. I hope that is not true.”

Although it is unclear if fans would support another ECHL team, with the original American Hockey League Monarchs leaving Manchester after winning the Calder Cup after the 2014-’15 season, Banker believes that fans would return regardless of which league comes to town. She is not alone.

Cora Schott of Lewiston, Maine, was also in attendance in Exeter, and much like Banker, travelled to every single Mariners game, home and away.

For Schott, the idea of a New Hampshire without a professional hockey team is an alien one and she thinks it is unlikely to last.

“Manchester felt like a second home, it was pretty sad when they folded. It was almost like you lost a friend, we were so used to them being with us,” she said. “I think it’d be really weird without a hockey team in New Hampshire for a long period. Even though it seemed like there weren’t a lot of fans near the end, near the beginning of the year and back during the (Portland) Pirates era, there were so many.”

That is a sentiment also shared by Maine Mariners Media Relations and Broadcast Manager Michael Keeley.

Keeley was there during the Monarchs’ overtime playoff win in Exeter, and advertisements for the Mariners were in Exeter that day as well.

Those advertisements still remain in Exeter, as New Hampshire remains as a key part of the Mariners’ marketing strategy. However, it’s a strategy that’s weakened without the Monarchs there.

“The loss of the Monarchs were a big blow to the Mariners, the Manchester Monarchs were an extension of our home games and we saw Manchester fans at our games,” he said. I hope down the road we get another Manchester team and recreate the rivalry we had with them last year. The location of Manchester is ideal for a rivalry with both us and the Railers.”

The Mariners advertise in Exeter, as they did last winter. photo/Andrew Sylvia