The Stanley Cup Playoffs are coming to Boston, but did you know the Kelly Cup Playoffs will be arriving shortly in Manchester? The Kelly Cup is the trophy awarded to the champions of the ECHL, America’s premiere “AA” hockey league, and the league in which the Manchester Monarchs have played for the last three seasons.
Under the leadership team of Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Rich Seeley and Assistant Coach Jeff Giuliano, the ECHL version of the Monarchs have qualified for the post season three consececutive years. Seeley was an original member of the American Hockey League’s Monarchs in 2001. A rugged defenseman, Seeley was a sixth round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 1997. Jeff Giuliano is a Nashua native and a former Boston College Eagle. Giuliano was not drafted but was signed out of Boston College by Los Angeles and played for the Monarchs from 2002-2008 in addition to his 101 games with the L.A. Kings.
The Monarchs’ 14-year run as the top affiliate of Los Angeles Kings came to an end after the 2014-15 season, culminating with an American Hockey League Calder Cup championship. The Monarchs downed the Utica Comets in five games to cop the Cup. The AHL Monarchs qualified for the post season 13 times in 14 years.
Manchester was one of eight cities to lose AHL franchises following the 2014-15 season. Five of those franchises wound up in California. The Kings’ top affiliate is now known as the Ontario (California) Reign. The Monarchs to this day remain affiliated with the L.A. Kings.
Last season the Monarchs were one win away from the ECHL Finals. Manchester was ousted in the seventh game of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final by the South Carolina Stingrays. On a personal note, I had my bags packed and ready to go to Loveland, Colorado to broadcast the ECHL title series had the Monarchs been involved. The Colorado Eagles captured the championship, eliminating South Carolina in four straight games.
How will the Monarchs fare in the 2018 post season? The team is currently sitting atop the ECHL’s North Division and are playing some of their best hockey right now despite several key players being summoned by AHL teams. The Monarchs had a seven-game winning streak snapped on Saturday night.
Three reasons for playoff optimism are one of the top goaltending combinations in the league, one of the league’s top scorers and an outstanding record on the road.
Manchester’s goaltending duo of Charles Williams and Evan Cowley have been solid. Williams was a Hobey Baker Award finalist while playing at Canisius College in 2016-17 and has continued that success in the pro ranks. Cowley was a goalie on the NCAA championship hockey team last season, the University of Denver. He has showed consistent improvement between the pipes and posted his first ECHL shutout last Friday night in a key 5-0 win over the Adirondack Thunder at SNHU Arena.
The Monarchs’ offense has been paced all season by veteran forward Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman. Selected by the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers in round four of the 2005 entry draft “Smo” is having a career year, averaging more than a point per game at this writing with 33 goals and 37 assists for 70 points in 65 games.
Entering the homestretch of the current ECHL campaign, the Monarchs own the second-best road record in the league. Playing well away from home is always important but it takes on even greater significance when it comes to the hotly contested playoff season.
Veteran leadership supplied by Captain David Kolomatis and LaVallee-Smotherman is also reason for thinking positively about Manchester’s chances as the playoffs approach.
The Monarchs will play their final home game of the regular season on Saturday, April 7 against the Worcester Railers. It’s a 6 PM game at Manchester’s SNHU Arena on Fan Appreciation Night. The chase for the Kelly Cup begins the week of April 9.