In their final season in New Hampshire, the Manchester Monarchs could go out on a high note.
The team is headed to its first Calder Cup Finals. Game 1 is slated for Saturday night in Manchester against the Utica Comets.
Alex Hall covers the Monarchs for the New Hampshire Union Leader.
He joined NHPR's Morning Edition for a preview of the series.
Going into this season, did this seem like a team built for a finals run?
Going into the season, they had a lot of success last year. They finished first in the Atlantic Division. They were the top seed in the Eastern Conference last year. They got bounced in the first round by Norfolk, and that’s kind of been a problem for the team over the years. They’ve had strong regular seasons in the past, but struggled in the postseason. They had the talent this year, for sure. Jordan Weal and Brian O’Neill are some of the top guys for the Los Angeles Kings in terms of prospects. Anybody who goes to a game will see their impact on the game sheet.
The Kings are the major league affiliate for the Monarchs.
Yes, of course. And they brought in a new coach in Mike Stothers this year, so there was some change. The only question was how he would gel with the players who were already here and some of the new guys they brought in from college and juniors.
What’s the key for the Monarchs heading into the series?
I think they just have to continue what’s been working for them, which is they haven’t lost at home yet in the playoffs. They’ve been just out of this world at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. If they can continue their home success, get up 2-0 in the first two games of the series, which they’ve been able to in every other series. They’ve been able to control things. They need to continue their home success and continue to pepper the opposing goalie with some shots. Their offense has been impressive. O’Neill, Weal, and their rookie Michael Mersch out of the University of Wisconsin are three of the top five guys in terms of scoring in the postseason, so they’ve got some real talent there to make some things happen.
As we know, this team will leave Manchester after 15 seasons and will be moving to California. Obviously, a finals win would be a big milestone for the franchise, but, win or lose, was their time here a success?
I think so. I think when you look at the Monarchs and what they’ve accomplished from a franchise standpoint, in their heyday, attendance-wise, they were among the top in the league. Even in the past couple years, when they’ve dipped down into the middle of the pack, they’ve never been out of the middle of the pack in attendance. There’s always been that fan base that has supported them. And I think the team kind of paved the way for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats to come in. The Monarchs showed that a minor league team in New Hampshire and Manchester could work. Regardless of the fact that this is their first trip to the Calder Cup, I think in terms of showing what this market could do from a sports business aspect is impressive.
Any prediction for how the finals will turn out?
I’ve been wrong most times when I’ve made predictions for the Monarchs this postseason, but I would say I think this one will go six or seven games just because what one team is good at, the other team is good at countering. I just feel like if they made it this far, the Monarchs would come away with it just because they’ve faced a lot of different style teams and they’ve been able to get through them. I don’t see why this would be different.