2015-06-20 : Manchester, NH
When the Monarchs announced in 2001 they would play in Manchester, I naturally became a Monarchs fan. I bought season tickets. Started off with two seats, went up to four seats, then dropped to one seat when I found it hard to get anyone to go to the games. Eventually stopped all together and mostly went to road games. Most people may know I like to travel and I have had many opportunities to do so by hitting the road (or jumping on a plane at MHT) when the Monarchs do. I have sat with the “enemy” as a visitor in many arenas around the league. In most places I was treated with respect. Being that there were seven New England teams in the AHL, the only issues (outside of playoff games in Hershey) I have ever had were from New England fans (not fellow booster club members, just the drunk casual ones...lol). I have had the pleasure of going to AHL cities (30 in all, past and present) like Hershey, WB-Scranton, Norfolk, Charlotte, San Antonio, Houston, Omaha, Des Moines, Peoria, Milwaukee, Rockford and Chicago. My all-time favorite trip was to St. John’s, Newfoundland for a couple games. Both the team and my traveling companions got fogged in after the last game and had to spend another couple of nights in St. John’s. My friend Ray Clarke was concerned about his job, but my boss just told me to keep him up-to-date. In the last 14 seasons, I have had a ton of experiences and each was unique. I wouldn’t go back and change any of them. The people I have met both while visiting cites around the league and through the Association of AHL Booster Clubs has been amazing! I knew when I was going on the road I would see friendly faces around the league. It made it easier to say “Let’s Go”!!! Some of the arenas were newer and larger, but a lot of them were older and smaller than what we had here in Manchester. Each had its own character. I liked some more than others and I liked some even more than Manchester’s home arena. For me, the smaller the arena the better the atmosphere. NBA arenas are too big for AHL hockey, although that is my opinion only. All the trips I have taken were a blast. I have had some special people to travel with over the years. I have played a few jokes on Ray Clarke over the years. He is easy to get freaked out about stuff. One time in Harford, Michelle Gagnon and Ray Clarke were under the covers in bed. Prior to this moment, I had told Michelle the plan I was hatching. I got on the bed and produced a ring and asked Ray to marry me. I won’t put here what he said, but we laughed a lot. The liquor store trip earlier in the day was hysterical. Once in Norfolk, Ray was flying in to Norfolk Airport. We were trying to figure out what we can do to Ray. I don’t remember how it all came about, but we stopped at Walmart to buy dresses for Paul Kemp, Dan Barrett and I. The idea was Ray would use the hotel bathroom eventually and the three of us would get into the dresses and surprise him when he comes out. While shopping, we found out it was cheaper to get nightgowns. One was blue, another green and the last one was pink. Ray came out of the bathroom and the look on his face was priceless. He ran back to the bathroom and locked the door...hahaha. Now that the Manchester Monarchs AHL team has up and left Manchester, NH for Ontario, California, the opportunity to travel for hockey has pretty much come to an end. The Manchester Monarchs team will still exist, but they will be in the ECHL. However, I don’t think at that level of hockey, spending the money to road trip is worth it. Plus, I won’t know anyone at those arenas. Knowing people in each city made traveling worth doing and was a large part of why I would go . It was like visiting family everywhere I went. There will be one exception...I will take a trip to see the ECHL Monarchs play the Orlando Solar Bears on January 28, 29, and 30. It will be a nice long weekend in a warmer climate than NH and MHT has direct flights into Orlando at that time of year. I had the pleasure of traveling to Utica for games 4 & 5 during the Calder Cup Finals. Due to surgery I couldn’t get to game 3. However, I begged my friend Louise to drive me there (I was on crutches and some good meds, so I wasn’t allowed to drive). Utica was a tough ticket to get. The arena only holds 3,800 fans. It didn’t help that Utica decided to open sales at the box office at 10 AM on a Friday, but not allow online sales until noontime. I saw it as a way to lock out Monarchs fans. Needless to say, all three games (3, 4 & 5) sold out by four minutes past noon. It was a crazy experience in Utica. The place was sold out and the fans there were rabid in cheering for their team, yet all treated Louise and I will respect and were very welcoming at the games. And they were loud...soooo loud. That was the loudest I have ever heard a fan base during a game. That trip will forever be in my memory. It helps that Manchester won the Cup! With Manchester out of the AHL, my plan is to go to Portland once a month to see AHL hockey. It will be kind of awkward to be cheering for the “enemy”, but it is what it is. The Monarchs held a celebration on the Tuesday after the team won the championship. It was held at their home rink, the Verizon Wireless Arena. The players were introduced and Max (mascot) carried out the Calder Cup. A couple players spoke, then a video montage of the playoff run. The championship banner was raised to the roof by the players. This was done because the team was moving over the summer. Hopefully, with NHL expansion on the horizon, maybe Manchester can land another AHL club in the not-to-distant future. I can only hope.
Written By: Bill Walch