By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277
Per RinksideRhodeIsland.com writer Mark Divver, Manchester, New Hampshire continues to produce rumors with the return of professional hockey. Commonly known in the Northeastern part of the United States as ManchVegas, the largest city in the state initially had a firm grip in the hockey community when the American Hockey Leagues Manchester Monarchs team was there from 2001 to 2015.
Hearing faint rumblings about interest — both ECHL & NAHL — in bringing hockey back to Manchester for 2021-22— Mark Divver (@MarkDivver) May 23, 2020
The Monarchs were a minor-pro affiliate of the National Hockey Leagues Los Angeles Kings before packing up operations from the New England area after a successful tenure. The Monarchs would change their name to the current Ontario Reign, which was the King’s ECHL “AA” affiliation, and headed to the Golden State to house their top prospects closer to the NHL organization. The cities of Manchester, NH, and Ontario, CA, would swap minor-pro affiliations, thus keeping the Monarchs team name but representing a lower hockey league in the development scheme.
After the departure of the AHL franchise, the ECHL Monarchs would continue to play four seasons in the Queen City totaling a record of 156-102-14 in 288 games. The Monarchs club did make the Kelly Cup Playoffs for all four years in the Granite State in that timeframe but dwindling season ticket numbers and individual gameday gate numbers the franchise folded at the end of the 2018-19 campaign. So for a whole hockey season including this Covid-19 Pandemic, the SNHU Arena owned by Southern New Hampshire University has laid dormant for on-ice events when it comes to the pro level.
The Boston Bruins have had their “AA” affiliation located in the Atlanta, Georgia area since August of 2015 after not agreeing to an extension with the then affiliated South Carolina Stingrays who the B’s shared with the NHL’s Washington Capitals. Atlanta has been a suitable place for a backup franchise to act as a feeder system for the above AHL’s Providence Bruins organization. From the 2015-16 regular season to the close of operations due to the Corona Virus the Atlanta Gladiators have a record of 153-161-23 in 349 games. The Gladiators were on a serious run trying to get out of the middle of the ECHL’s South Division for a 2019-20 Kelly Cup playoff better but that was cut short with what’s going on in the world today. Before the tremendous second-half play this season, the Gladiators only made it to the postseason once affiliated with the NHL Bruins getting swept in the first round to the powerful Florida Everblades.
As of right now with no sports going on and hockey seasons canceled at the lower levels, the ECHL one-year agreement is officially over between the Bruins and the Gladiators. As seen below, collegiate hockey and minor-pro hockey guru Mark Divver comes at us one more time with another interesting tweet the very next day sparking increased speculation about a possibility of the Bruins moving their “AA” affiliation closer much like what the LA Kings did in 2015 in a different league of course.
For those wondering, Boston will be affiliated with Atlanta again in 2020-21, per source— Mark Divver (@MarkDivver) May 23, 2020
With the information above from Divver’s source, it almost aligns the planets of bringing of things together that could happen shortly when talking about creating closer affiliations. One more season in Atlanta could be the time needed to facilitate an ECHL franchise move northward and one that might be attractive to Bruins fans thirsty for hockey. Things might’ve not been the best of times between the city of Manchester and former ECHL team ownership, but can you imagine the increased volume of attention if that “team” had ties to the NHL Boston Bruins about 80 miles away?
There’s long been a rumor that the now ECHL Worcester Railers were going to be the next “AA” affiliate of the Boston Bruins before a team ended up playing in the second-largest city in Massachusetts. Worcester Pro Hockey, LLC owner Cliff Rucker has a long relationship with the NHL Bruins, and it was almost certain the ECHL affiliation would leave Atlanta and head North. Another rumor about a Bruins affiliation in the city of Worcester that might’ve been the ole wrench in the gears of that idea was the NHL Bruins top minor-pro affiliation with the Providence Bruins. That particular rumor was the team from Rhode Island didn’t want to compete with another B’s affiliation so close, and it’s believed that there’s a 40-mile radius agreement between the NHL Organization and the club in Providence.
Outside of that “so-called” 40-mile boundary lay some other great locations besides mentioned above, Manchester, New Hampshire. Lowell, Massachusetts, is another attractive destination that housed the AHL for several NHL organizations in the past but hasn’t seen professional hockey in the last ten years. The University of Massachusetts-Lowell owns the multi-purpose facility, and even though this might be an attractive location, it would be hard to compete for ice time. College and minor-pro hockey predominately operate during the weekends, so scheduling home games around the UMass-Lowell River Hawks hockey team would somewhat de difficult.
Portland, Maine is another area that could be interesting although currently occupied at the Cross Insurance Arena by the Maine Mariners. The Maine club is affiliated with the NHL’s New York Rangers, so not sure if the Rangers organization would want to break a contract for another team to come in and set up operations. If an ECHL affiliate is needed closer to the Rangers AHL affiliation in Hartford, Connecticut, then the possibilities are endless for a Bruins minor-pro affiliation back in the state of Maine. The NHL Bruins and the old AHL Maine Mariners were under Bruins rule from 1986 to 1992 before moving south to Providence Rhode Island.
Of course, this is all speculation at this point, but I do see a team in the near future being located somewhere in New England to be the primary Providence Bruins feeder system. It just makes sense in my opinion.