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September 16. 2012 11:49PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: The Cup stops here


Luc Robitaille, president of business operations for the Los Angeles Kings, brings out the Stanley Cup for fans outside the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester Sunday afternoon. (MARK BOLTON/UNION LEADER)
MANCHESTER -- THE NHL may be in a lockout, but Lord Stanley still has a schedule to keep.

Thousands of fans flocked to Verizon Wireless Arena Sunday to spend some time with the Stanley Cup, which was making a visit courtesy of the champion Los Angeles Kings and their AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs.

Having the Kings bring the Cup to Manchester to say thank you to the Monarchs organization and fan base meant a lot.

“It's a big payoff. Not that it wasn't worth it before, but it makes every moment count, remembering all the players and seeing them now,” said Dawn Wilson, a season-ticket holder from Manchester, who attended the event with husband Barry and 3-year-old daughter Emma.

The Cup was delivered to town by Kings president of business operations Luc Robitaille. A 19-year NHL veteran and member of the hockey Hall of Fame, Robitaille was impressed with the turnout Sunday.

“I think it's absolutely incredible to see all the fans here,” Robitaille said. “We know that the Stanley Cup (win) wouldn't have happened without the Monarchs. I know these fans, they know they're part of it. They're part of a big family, we're all a part of it.”

And the fans felt it.

The Donais family from Manchester, Craig, Mary Kate and kids Garrett (11) and Aidan (6), have been season ticket holders since the inaugural season (adding tickets as the family grew).

“It's huge, especially for the kids to see that tradition and experience it,” Mary Kate Donais said. “We actually woke up our older son the night that (the Kings) won it because he wanted to see them holding the Cup and celebrating.”

Seeing those players who had passed through Manchester raise the Cup was a source of pride for many Monarchs fans.

“Dustin Brown, I remember when he was captain for the Monarchs and in the blink of an eye he gets called up and now he's captain of the Kings,” said Andrew Van Ness of Pembroke, who was at the event with friend Cat Makosiej. “He's come a long way and we've watched him since he was with the Monarchs.”

The crowd stretched around the block and toward Valley Street Cemetery, everyone waiting patiently for their quick photo opportunity with the Cup (and Cup keeper Phil Pritchard, who was also a popular photo subject).

The atmosphere was one of celebration despite the bad news from the NHL about the lockout. But most fans were looking to the bright side and anticipating seeing a higher talent level with players logging AHL ice time who would otherwise be in the big show.

“It's sad, but it's going to be exciting for us seeing all the (extra) players here,” said Frank Belleci, a Monarchs season-ticket holder from Day 1 who was seeing the Cup with wife and fellow Monarchs fan Sue-Ellen. “It does make for an interesting season in the AHL.”

The Monarchs will open camp on Sept. 28 and visit Providence to start the season on Oct. 12.

For Monarchs president Darren Abbott, Sunday's Stanley Cup visit and the turnout it inspired was a source of pride.

“It feels great. We know it's a great hockey town, but on a Sunday afternoon, for people to take time out of their day to see the Stanley Cup sure makes you proud to be involved with the Monarchs and in the community,” Abbott said. “Having everyone here really shows they put the rink in the right place and they put this team in the right city.”

Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is iclark@unionleader.com.

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