Area sports fans lose on this one

An old friend passed away last week.

The Manchester Monarchs were just that to many – a collective friend, an entertainment venue, and at one time part of a formula that made the area a hockey hotbed with their American Hockey League rivalry with the Lowell (Mass.) Lock Monsters and later Devils.

But that’s all ancient history now. The Lock Monsters, a few years after the New Jersey Devils took them over, left the region in June of 2010, and no franchise came in to replace them.

And now, the Monarchs – actually, the Monarchs redux after they dropped down to the ECHL from the AHL a few years ago – are gone. Poof. Doors closed. Out of business.

It’s a shame. But, as many have said or written in the last few days, not unexpected. The Lock Monsters and Monarchs were both sold, and after that happened, they seemed both franchises – albeit a decade apart – seemed to lose their identity with the fans, and themselves.

The AHL didn’t help matters when it created its Pacific Division, shipping all its Western Conference affiliates out, well, west to cut down on travel. Smart move for teams like the Monarchs owners, the L.A. Kings, but bad for hockey fans when the lower-level ECHL became the league the Monarchs would play in. After seeing many players – including Nashua’s own Jeff Giuliano – move from the Monarchs to the NHL, hockey fans in Southern New Hampshire had to settle for less.

The region deserved better.

Giuliano was in the office of Monarchs coach Doug Christiansen, whom he helped get hired, the other day. He had to go over there and pay his respects. A piece of him had just died.

“I owe everything to the Monarchs,” Giuliano said. “My playing career started there. My coaching career started there. … I can’t thank the Monarchs enough. Without the Monarchs, I don’t know where I’d be. When I was playing there, there wasn’t a better place to play in the American League.”

And he’s right. The novelty had already begun wearing off before the switch to the ECHL but wow, were the Monarchs the talk of the region back from about 2001-2008. At one point they were close to averaging 10,000 fans as the top minor league hockey draw – if not minor league sports, period – in the country.

They played in a brand new arena, they developed a big following from all around New Hampshire, including Nashua. They had a rivalry with Lowell. In fact, the two team presidents at the time, Manchester’s Jeff Eisenberg and Lowell’s Jim Leahy, were old buddies and under their direction, not only did the rivalry thrive, but so did their franchises. In 2005, the AHL had its annual All-Star Game in Manchester.

It all clicked. It was fun to cover. Heck, for the follically challenged such as yours truly, Mullett Night was an event to mark down.

Why didn’t the good times last? There were probably some economic reasons, for certain. Lowell never grabbed its area the way Manchester did, as UMass-Lowell eventually took over not only the Tsongas Arena but the fan base. Then everyone knew when the Devils bought the Lock Monsters it was only a matter of time before they bugged out.

The first part of this decade, the Monarchs numbers began to dwindle, franchises always have their diehards but they couldn’t sustain a season ticket base of close to 5,000. It stands to reason that the New Hampshire Fisher Cats Double A baseball franchise eventually made the advertising/sponsorship dollar thin out. Then, the sale of the team back in 2016 after the switch to the ECHL seemed to hurry the downward spiral. When the team was put back on the market in January, and there was no news of a buyer, no release talking about how people could get season tickets for next year. Well, it happens. We remember the late August night in 2008 when Nashua Pride owner John Stabile gathered everyone in the main suite and announced there was no financial way he could keep the franchise.

The Monarchs had colorful characters. Bruce Boudreau, their first coach, has become a National Hockey League fixture behind the bench. Old friend Ken Cail was the voice of the team on radio for years, but when the move was made last year to make a change, you knew the end was just beginning.

“I feel really bad for the fans,” Giuliano said. “It was awesome. I mean, sure, attendance was down, but attendance is down in all sports, people today have so much more to do.”

Now, one less thing to do. Giuliano said he looked around the walls in the building he used to spend so much time in, and couldn’t envision different colors and no Monarchs logos.

“It’s really sad,” he said.

The end usually is.