As it turns out, the Manchester Monarchs were not forced to play three games of the AHL playoffs in Virginia.
According to a representative from the AHL, as the higher seed, Manchester had the final say in the breakdown of the best-of-five first round Eastern Conference playoff series between the No. 1 Monarchs and No. 8 Norfolk.
The format was two games in one building and then three (if needed) in the other team’s rink. Norfolk’s Scope Arena was not available to open the series the weekend of April 25 and 26. The Monarchs could have chosen to force Norfolk to find another venue, but opted not to in the interest of being an accommodating league partner.
“Our preference was to start on the road,” said Monarchs president Darren Abbott. “Our scenario with (potential opponent) Hershey was to start on the road. That was the preference from a hockey standpoint and so that was what the plan was. Norfolk didn’t have the ice that first weekend so rather than force them to play in an alternate venue and in the interest of being a good league partner, we switched the series.”
That was the decision made by the front office, but the hockey staff was not made aware that there were options. In the end, Manchester won Game 1 at home, lost Game 2 at home and then lost Games 3 and 4 in Norfolk to fall 3-1 in the series.
“I took it as gospel that these are the only options and I have no knowledge as to what the schedule looked like for the Verizon or the Scope,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “I leave that up to the powers that be that do the scheduling. That’s kind of out of my realm. I assumed that I didn’t have any say in it and that these were the dates and this is what was available. I knew it wasn’t going to be ideal and my recollection was that I said ‘well, you’ve got to win them anyway, right?’ Realizing that it was going to be an imperfect setup no matter what.”
Monarchs director of hockey operations Hubie McDonough said that he was not told that Manchester could force Norfolk to find another venue, but said he understood that Abbott was negotiating in good faith with the Admirals’ front office.
“No, I was not. But again, Darren is dealing with them and he’s trying to be a good partner and they had issues so he did what he had to do,” McDonough said. “And then we could have made them play in a practice rink if it came down to that, which is kind of bush league. Darren was being a good partner and that’s how it worked out. We didn’t know about any options until after the fact. I still don’t know what any options would have been. You learn and I guess next time we’ll have to be a little firmer in how we want to play it out.”
Abbott said he showed McDonough and Morris the proposed schedules for all the potential playoff opponents at the time.
“They’re really easy and good to work with. I showed them all the scenarios and they said to just do the best you can,” Abbott said. “I always give (the scenarios) to them. If it’s going to be sticky like that I let them know what’s coming. They’re pretty easy going and say ‘you do the best you can and we’ll play the games.’”
Opening at home gave Manchester two guaranteed weekend home games and the larger attendance that comes with them over a mid-week game, but Abbott said that wasn’t really a factor.
“When it comes to the playoffs, we want to accommodate the hockey guys as much as we can,” he said. “Rather than cram the whole series into a few days the second week we opted to do it the way we did it.”
Abbott said it was ultimately about being a fair partner in the league because all the teams have to work together. He said there was never any discussion with Norfolk about finding another venue to open the games in Virginia.
“No. I’ve never been one to do that because what goes around comes around. We’ve all had building issues from time to time. We helped them out and at the end of the day we felt we could win in that format and we didn’t,” Abbott said. “In theory we could have made them play anywhere. We haven’t operated that way in the past so we would hope that people would help us, too.”