As the impending NHL lockout cast a dark shadow on hockey, two positive events will try to shine through in the Queen City.
Today, the Manchester Monarchs welcome the Stanley Cup to town in celebration of their parent club Los Angeles winning the prize in June.
Tomorrow, Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, himself a Stanley Cup champ in 2011, will be on hand for the second annual Big Z Challenge youth hockey event.
The Monarchs will host the Cup on the plaza in front of Verizon Wireless arena from 5-5:30 p.m. tonight in an event open to the public. The Cup then moves inside for a private function for season ticket holders.
Chara's will be in town for a youth hockey tournament and meet-and-greet with Big Z himself (which is sold out) taking place at The Elliott. Proceeds from the event go to New Hampshire's Hospital for Children.
These two events highlight Manchester's ties to the Stanley Cup and underscore the importance of hockey in general in the area.
The last time there was an NHL lockout, the Monarchs enjoyed a season with high attendance (9,052 fans per game, second in the AHL to Chicago), a franchise-best 110 points and the spotlight of the AHL all-star game being played in town.
While the all-star game won't be back this year, some NHL talent that would otherwise be in Los Angeles will be.
The Monarchs will report to camp on Sept. 28 and at least one player will be on hand who was not expected to be: winger Jordan Nolan.
He was among 15 players assigned to Manchester Friday (along with goalies J.F. Berube and Martin Jones, forwards Andy Andreoff, Robbie Czarnik, Brandon Kozun, Andrei Loktionov, Brian O'Neill, Tanner Pearson, Nikolay Prokhorkin, Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey and Jordan Weal and defensemen David Kolomatis and Nick Deslauriers).
Defenseman Slava Voynov was assigned to Manchester Saturday. Early indications were that Voynov would not be able to play in Manchester because he was not on the “clear day” roster last season but that is not the case.
Three other players, David Meckler, Stefan Legein and Andrew Bodnarchuk, cleared waivers Saturday and will join the Monarchs as well.
Several other key players will be effected by the lockout, among them captain Marc-Andre Cliche, Rich Clune, Andrew Campbell, Jake Muzzin and Thomas Hickey. Those players would have to sign an AHL-only contract in order to play with the Monarchs during the lockout.
“The way I read it, they would be available to us if they want to sign an AHL contract,” said Monarchs director of hockey operations Hubie McDonough. “They have two-way (NHL-AHL) contracts, but the lockout would (alter) the deals as far as I know.”
Another key player from L.A.'s Stanley Cup run, winger Dwight King, could also potentially end up in Manchester.
“Right now, as I understand it, he would be eligible,” McDonough said. “That's a decision for the Kings to make.”
But as indicated by McDonough's, even the teams themselves are unclear right now as to exactly which players will be eligible.
Several players won't be back in Manchester for certain. Defensemen Pat Mullen (signed with Vancouver) and Jordan Hill (signed with Dallas), forwards Justin Azevedo (opted to play in Europe), Trent Hunter (contract expired, could retire), and goalie Jeff Zatkoff (signed with Pittsburgh) have all moved on.
The lockout will also delay the pro debut of several high profile young players, among them Bruins can't-miss prospect Dougie Hamilton.
Hamilton was assigned to his OHL junior team on Friday and is expected to be able to join the Bruins once the lockout ends.
It is stillpossible that Hamilton could make his pro debut in the AHL with Providence. The Monarchs open the season at Providence on Oct. 12.
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Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.