DISCLAIMER: The interviews for this series were conducted in the latter months of 2019

While their parent club’s 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup victories may have filled them and their fans with unbelievable joy, there was still something to be said about the direct success of the Manchester Monarchs. After all, as successful as a team as they were overall, the Monarchs had yet to capture the American Hockey League’s most-coveted prize.
Entering the 2014-15 season, despite winning their division the previous year, the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings had suffered first-round playoff exits in each of their previous four seasons. This time, though, there was something promising afoot.
Mike Stothers (Photo credit: TheAHL.com)

Mark Morris, who had been the club’s head coach since 2006, was gone. Mike Stothers was in, joining the Monarchs after three seasons with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. Up front were the promising likes of Jordan Weal, Michael Mersch and captain Vincent LoVerde.
The 2014-15 Manchester Monarchs were on a mission to win the Calder Cup, but they had to complete this knowing what was in store the following season.
In the third and final installment of my CaliSports News exclusive, I speak with some of the members of the 2014-15 Monarchs, whose ultimate victory was a bittersweet one to say the least.
The Monarchs also enjoyed a solid campaign from diminutive right-winger Brian O’Neill.
Coming off a 26-goal, 47-point season in 2013-14, the native of Yardley, PA, was just warming up. In 2014-15, O’Neill would rack up a team- and a career-high with 80 points and would tie Mersch for the team lead in goals with 22.
Brian O’Neill (Photo credit: Steve Babineau/Manchester Monarchs)

Coming off his tenure at Yale, O’Neill would join the Monarchs in early 2012 and immediately fell in love with his new home.
“Manchester was a hockey town,” O’Neill emphasized. “I didn’t know much about the city prior to signing with the Kings, but I really enjoyed the small town vibe and how engaging the fanbase was. I spent my first three years pro in Manchester and by the end of my third year, the city felt like home. I think that says a lot about the city and the people in that community.”
Entering the 2015 playoffs, the Monarchs would win the Atlantic Division once again — the first, and only, time they’d capture consecutive division crowns, as well as consecutive 100-point-plus seasons. But, their 50-17-6 record marked just the second time the Monarchs would hit the 50-win plateau.
There was something extra special about 2014-15 version of the club, though.
“We had an amazing group of guys,” said defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk, a third-year Monarch entering the ‘14-15 season. “At the rink and away from it, we enjoyed being together. We had an awesome coaching staff and the development team in the organization was a lot of fun to be around.”
Andrew Bodnarchuk (Photo credit: Team Shred Photography)

Additionally, the native of Drumheller, Alta., fondly reflected on his time in Manchester and how it helped his career.
“My time in Manchester and the short time I spent in L.A. was great for my development,” Bodnarchuk noted. “The organization has a lot of former players who are fun to be around and are very hands on with the players. Anytime you win, it’s great for experience and development moving forward. Seeing what it takes is crucial for any player, I believe. I was able to be a part of a winning team both as an on-ice player and an extra when the Kings won their second Cup.”
After the Portland Pirates pushed them to the distance in the opening round of the 2015 playoffs, the Monarchs hung on, edging the then-Arizona Coyotes affiliate in five games of the best-of-five series.
If anyone thought that their slow start was a sign of things to come, though, they were mistaken as the Monarchs needed just nine games to win the next two rounds, booking their first-ever trip to the Calder Cup Final. This provided consolation to disappointed Kings fans who witnessed their team miss the playoffs after a frustrating season both on and off the ice.
Before the AHL playoffs began, though, the league had decided to expand to the west coast to begin the 2015-16 season. This meant that the west-coast NHL teams would have their AHL affiliates much closer geographically. To the chagrin of fans in Manchester, the Kings were no exception.
Photo credit: Heather Stebbins/The Pink Puck)

In the end, the Kings would benefit from having their AHL club in nearby Ontario, CA — where their ECHL team, the Reign, was located.
Back to what happened on the ice, though.
In the Calder Cup Final, the rivalry between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks added another chapter — well, kind of — as their AHL affiliates squared off for the AHL championship: the Monarchs and the Canucks’ affiliate, the Utica Comets.
The Monarchs got the better of the Comets, defeating them in five games to win the elusive Calder Cup.
“That was a special season for a lot of different reasons,” said O’Neill, who won the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s regular-season MVP. “Winning the Calder Cup was one of the greatest memories of my playing career. Winning the MVP is obviously a nice honor, but to cap it off with a championship made it all that more special. Sort of a dream ending to AHL hockey in Manchester. Well, at least for now.”
Nick Shore (Photo credit: Andrew Krech/ Associated Press)

O’Neill followed up his solid regular season with a great showing in the playoffs, registering 20 points in 19 playoff games that spring.
“For me, winning was the perfect way to end my time in Manchester,” Bodnarchuk added. “As a veteran player, I wanted to test my luck with a different NHL team and had a good idea that I wouldn’t be joining the team in Ontario.
“I think going on that run helped massively with my exposure and ultimately gave me a chance to get some significant time in the NHL the following season.”
Just weeks later, the defenseman signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, playing 16 games for the club before playing 21 more for the Colorado Avalanche.
“It’s something that you’re going to remember forever with a great group of guys,” said Nick Shore, who scored four goals and 14 assists for the Monarchs in the 2015 playoffs. “Any time you have a chance to win a championship, it’s awesome. If you look at a lot of the guys on that team, you know that they’re still playing and doing really well today. So, those are some of the friendships you keep forever.”
Photo credit: Jeff Duarte

Shore, selected 82nd overall by Los Angeles in 2011, would play the next three-and-a-half seasons with the Kings. During his time with the club, he was a threat in the faceoff circle. In February 2018, though, the Denver native was sent to the Ottawa Senators with Marian Gaborik that brought Dion Phaneuf and Nate Thompson to southern California.
As for the aforementioned Stothers, while 2014-15 was his lone season in Manchester, it was nonetheless a memorable time for the veteran coach.
“Absolutely loved my time in Manchester on and off the ice,” Stothers beamed. “We won a championship with a group of players that were talented, but were also willing to put in the work necessary for success.”
As for the camaraderie between the players, the memories are just as fond for Bodnarchuk, Shore and O’Neill.
Photo credit: The Associated Press File Photo

“One of my best friends from college, Sean Backman, was someone I always relied upon during the majority of my time in Manchester,” admitted O’Neill. “I was fortunate enough to play for two great coaches in [Mark] Morris and Stothers. Both of them helped grow my game, especially Stothers in my final year.”
Following a trade to New Jersey a few months later, O’Neill would play 22 games for the Devils and has since finished his fourth season — a 19-goal, 48-point campaign — in Finland with Jokerit.
“Obviously, every team that wins a championship shares that bond,” added Bodnarchuk. “But the quality of guys has kept a lot of us in contact to date.”
“It was cool,” Shore said of the experiences with his Monarchs teammates. “I mean, when you have a bunch of guys who are in the same situation, you make the most of it and we enjoyed our time there. I lived with two other guys for the better part of two years, so it’s always going to be a good time.”
With the Monarchs moving to Ontario to become the Reign 2.0, the ECHL’s Reign would go the opposite way, moving to southern New Hampshire to become the Monarchs 2.0.
Photo credit: Carol Robidoux/NHPR

The ECHL version of the Monarchs would have moderate success, winning their division in 2015-16 and making the conference final the following season.
The ECHL’s Monarchs would finish the next two seasons in second place in the league’s North Division but getting eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in both years.
The latter year (2018-19), the Monarchs were ousted in six games by the first-year Newfoundland Growlers, who would go on to win the ECHL Championship, the Kelly Cup.
Little did anyone know at the time, however, that the Monarchs’ elimination would be the end of the organization’s existence.
Early in the 2018-19 season, the Monarchs were up for sale. Sadly, after failing to find a new owner, the team announced in May 2019 that the team was ceasing operations, effectively ending an 18-year relationship with the Los Angeles Kings.
Photo credit: Mark DiOrio/ Observer-Dispatch

An emotional time for those involved, especially from 2015, some of the former Monarchs couldn’t help but reflect on their memories of Manchester, from the arena atmosphere to the city’s — and the team’s — ever-loyal fanbase.
“We always had a great core group of fans in Manchester,” Bodnarchuk remembers. “What sticks out to me was riding the bus home from Utica after winning [the Calder Cup in 2015] and having fans waiting to cheer us on in the very early morning when we arrived. The next few days to follow, celebrating with everyone who turned out still sticks out as a great memory.”
Bodnarchuk has since taken his career to Germany where he recently finished his second season playing for EHC Red Bull München.
Following his time with the Kings, Nick Shore would play for the Senators, Flames and Maple Leafs before joining the Winnipeg Jets this past season. As for the site of his beginning in professional hockey, though, the centerman has fond memories of Manchester and the Monarchs’ fanbase.
“They were great,” Shore said. “I think [Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena] was always one of the better buildings to play in. Unfortunately, they don’t have a team anymore, so it would be nice if someone else got back in there.”
While he shared the same sentiments as his former teammates, there was one fan in particular who stood out for Brian O’Neill.
Photo credit: Carol Robidoux/NHPR

“I became friendly with a few people in the community that were very generous to the organization,” the right-winger noted. “Bill Greiner was one such friend that helped the players in Manchester in any way he could.”
Mike Stothers would make the move from New England to California where he coached the AHL version of the Ontario Reign for the next five seasons, amassing a record of 170-120-39 over that stretch. As grateful as he was to the fans in Ontario, though, the Toronto native will never forget the impact the fans in Manchester had on him, his team and his family.
“The community, and fans, really embraced, and supported us from day one,” Stothers fondly reflected. “It is a shame that hockey is no longer played there. I will always cherish the memories of a great place to play and live.”
5⃣ years ago today, the Manchester Monarchs brought the Calder Cup to the @LAKings organization! pic.twitter.com/nYiIzUrknt
— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) June 13, 2020
When this writer thinks of the Manchester Monarchs, a myriad of emotions come flooding back.
Taking the scenic drive from Ottawa to Manchester through upstate New York and Vermont with my family, especially my older brother, a longtime Kings fan, is a memory that I will take with me for the rest of my life.
From watching the Kings’ future stars — including those I had the pleasure of interviewing for this series — to meeting fans, especially in the pre-social media days, and just feeling at home in a hockey town as warm, welcoming and charming as Manchester was, and is, the Monarchs symbolized all that was good in hockey.
Along with countless Monarchs and Kings fans, it makes me sad to know that the Monarchs are no more. In the same breath, it makes me happy to remember all the wonderful times the Manchester Monarchs brought us. Each fan has a different story to tell but for myself, the Monarchs make me fondly remember the games I went to with my parents, with my brother and with my aunt, who has since passed away.
The Manchester Monarchs may be gone but they will never be forgotten. So, in the risk of sounding a tad corny, let us not cry because it’s over. Let us smile because it happened.
Thank you for reading.
Photo credit: Lindsay A. Mogle/Utica Comets

**Special thanks to Dane Jackson, Jared Aulin, Richard Seeley, Cristobal Huet, Jason Labarbera, the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, Hubie McDonough, Jeff Giuliano, Kevin Westgarth, Jordan Nolan, Brian McCormack, Tyler Toffoli, Jon Gomez, Mike Stothers, Brian O’Neill, Iiro Keurulainen, Jokerit Helsinki, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Emanuel Hugl, Nick Shore, Scott Brown, Mitchell Clinton, Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets, Ontario Reign, San Antonio Rampage, Calgary Hitmen, Jokerit Helsinki, EHC Red Bull München.

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