After months of rumors and speculation, the news came down early Wednesday that the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs were done after playing in the town since 2001 across two different leagues, the AHL and ECHL.
And it really is a bummer, it’s a town that supported the AHL team really well before it was up and moved to California against their will as the AHL continued its westward expansion, and never really connected to the ECHL team in the same way, despite the Los Angeles Kings affiliation they had previously had with the AHL team.
So the town will be without professional hockey for the first time in nearly 20 years, but is there a chance it could make a return in the near future as an expansion team in the Federal Hockey League? Or perhaps as a junior market?
The market certainly fits into the FHL’s geography, and is nowhere near any SPHL teams, so it would have to be the FHL if they wanted pro hockey, or possibly the NAHL, or maybe even the QMJHL if they wanted to go the junior route.
Now, if they went with either the FHL or NAHL, there is no way they would play at the SNHU Arena, which has nearly 10,000 seats for hockey, it would be way too big and too expensive for either of those leagues to be able to afford.
So you’re probably thinking, well, where would they play then?
How about the historic JFK Memorial Coliseum, a very cool old barn with 1,600 permanent bleacher seats, seats on all four sides of the rink, and an arena that has previously hosted professional hockey in 1979 when they housed the Cape Cod Freedoms of the short-lived Northeastern Hockey League. That 1,600 seats would be a perfect number for either the FHL or NAHL, where crowds are often way smaller than the ECHL, and you’d only need about 1,000 a night to be a sustainable team.
As far as how they fit into each league’s current footprint, if they went to the FHL, they would have the Danbury Hat Tricks just three hours away, then Elmira and Watertown both about six hours away, and the newest team in Harrington, Delware about seven hours away, so it would certainly be doable, and give them a near-ish rival in Danbury.
So it would likely result in lots of games against Danbury, and maybe even a five-team East Division of all the cities we mentioned above. It would be quite a bit of travel outside of those teams, but it would be entirely doable.
As for the NAHL, take a look at the current league map, and remember the the NAHL East Division currently has seven teams, and has openly said they want to get to eight teams in the East and South.
That’s…pretty dang good. You’d have teams VERY close in the Northeast Generals and Maine Nordiques, as well as New Jersey and Wilkes Barre-Scranton not being too far, while Maryland, Jamestown, and Johnstown would all be within eight hours, so they would fit the division perfectly.
There’s also the possibility of a team in the QMJHL, but like the NAHL, you have to wonder how well the junior game would play in a town that historically been a pro hockey town. Which also calls into question how many people would turn out for the FHL, because remember, this is a town that went from the AHL and 9,000 fans a night, to the ECHL and 2,000 fans a night. You have to wonder how many stick around if they did get a FHL team.
If you made me rank the leagues in order of what I think seems most likely, it would be FHL, NAHL, and then a very distant third for the QMJHL.
And honestly, I wouldn’t expect the market to be vacant for long, shoot, with the affordability of the FHL (way cheaper start-up costs than the NAHL or QMJHL), it’s not entirely impossible that they could have a team by this fall. Now, it’s not likely that happens, and we haven’t heard any rumor of it happening or a group being ready there, but it’s still a possibility, and the only one if the town somehow wanted a pro or junior hockey team this fall.
It’s a bummer for fans in Manchester, our heart goes out to them because everyone on this site has lost a hometown team in the past, but I think we’ll see a team of some sort in Manchester before too long, it’s just a matter of if the FHL comes calling, or if the NAHL or QMJHL thinks it can be a viable market.