Monarchs in Exeter

Tom Gauld, of Manchester, waves the Monarchs’ flag during the Monarchs-Newfoundland playoff game at The Rinks at Exeter on Friday, May 3.

We knew this was coming. The great players were gone, the fans were gone and even Ken Cail was gone.

And now the Monarchs are gone.

It’s a sad day for hockey in Manchester.

They competed the last four seasons in a league called the ECHL (once the East Coast Hockey League), a collection of hard-working players who are not, generally, considered prospects. In other words, you won’t someday see them in an NHL sweater.

In recent years, they played before crowds you could count. The team had their loyal followers, of course, but the local hockey populace knows the difference between the AHL and the ECHL and never embraced the product.

Wednesday’s news was inevitable. After being marketed for sale, the Monarchs announced they were ceasing operations.

It was news I could not have foreseen years ago while standing in line for a New Year’s Eve game — a game that would sell out. Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Monarchs were that popular.

And why not? During their AHL heyday, they produced prospects like pucks in a bucket. The players’ names still ring familiar: Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, Alec Martinez and Tyler Toffoli, to name a few. The same players responsible for two Stanley Cups for their faraway NHL parent team, the Los Angeles Kings.

And the visiting teams. When Tuukka Rask and the Providence Bruins came in, who did you cheer for?

We came to know the early coaches, namely Bruce Boudreau and Mark Morris.

We grew comfortable with the familiar voice of play-by-play man Ken Cail on WGIR.

And, of course, the game stories and photos in the next day’s Union Leader.

There’s someone who lives in my house who is a passionate Kings fan because of all that. He remembers it all: the chuck-a-pucks, the Pink in the Rink nights and, of course, Max the mascot.

He also remembers the dwindling crowds, which started during the late AHL years and grew more sparse during the ECHL years.

Today, the conversations will continue about the future of professional hockey in the Queen City. Is this an ECHL city? We would tend to agree with the team’s final CEO, Brian Cheek, that it is not.

In fact, we’re better than that. We don’t have a team now, but we’re an AHL city.

And we have the memories to prove it.

Chris Duffy is the New Hampshire Union Leader’s chief sports editor.