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October 18. 2013 9:41PM

John Habib's City Sports: Monarchs' Morris salutes fans


Sadie Rowe, 5, of Manchester puts down her handprints on the red line on the rink at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester on Tuesday. Make-A-Wish children and their familes were joined by Manchester Monarchs players for the annual event. Children also got the chance to meet with players and pick out Monarchs merchandise. The Monarchs' home opener is tonight against Providence. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Home openers never get old for Mark Morris. Now in his eighth season as the Monarchs' head coach, Morris is looking forward to celebrating the team's 13th home opener at Verizon Wireless Arena, tonight at 7 against the Providence Bruins.

"I continue to tell the new players on our roster how much of a great experience it is to play in Manchester," Morris said. "The support we continue to receive year-in and year-out from our fans has been outstanding. I remind our players how fortunate we are to be playing in a community which loves hockey."

Morris also reminds the new players each season that the Monarchs draw that support despite making their home in Bruins country, a stone's throw from Boston, and often playing at the same time the Bruins are in action.

"We're always knocking heads with the Boston Bruins, and yet the city of Manchester and state of New Hampshire continue to support us," said Morris. "We're the affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, and New Hampshire fans respect us. That made an impression on me when I first arrived here eight years ago."

Morris also called the Verizon Wireless Arena "one of the best places to play an American Hockey League game. The arena is really among the best in the entire country, and I'm not just saying that because I work for the team. Go around the league, and you won't find many rinks that match the one we have."

Because he recognizes and appreciates the area's support, Morris encourages his players to be visible and active within the community.

"When a community supports you, you have to give something back to it," he said. "When the Monarchs sponsor an event with our fans, I tell all our players to make sure they participate in it. To me, it's important for our players to be part of the fabric of the city. I especially want our players to set a good example for the youngsters who look up to them."

Morris said he witnessed the effect of integrating with the community through the actions of such former Monarchs as Doug Nolan, Noah Clark and Nashua native Jeff Giuliano.

"Those guys were around when I first got here. They really adored the city and wanted to be part of it," Morris said. "It's no surprise to me the fans loved them when they were here."

Morris, who resides along the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Massena, N.Y., where his wife is a family court judge, said he's adopted Manchester as his second home.

"I consider the city and the fans near and dear to me," he said. "It's not easy to be away from your spouse for periods of time, but living in Manchester has helped me adjust. When I first arrived here, people welcomed me with open arms, and it quickly became a comfortable place for me to stay and live."

Morris said he looks forward to going to work every day with one elusive goal in mind.

"Never a day goes by without me thinking about how great it would be to bring the Calder Cup home to Manchester," he said. "A lot of right things have to happen at the right time, but it's something I'll always chase for the city. The fans deserve a Cup, and someday I hope we can get it for them."

Monarchs president Darren Abbott, now in his fourth season in Manchester, echoed Morris' sentiments.

"My first year here, we came so close to winning the Calder Cup," he said. "There's no question in my mind how much I'd love to see the team win the Calder Cup this season and bring it to Manchester. Our fans have been so loyal. They deserve it."

Abbott said to date his best moment with the Monarchs was when former Los Angeles player and current executive Luc Robitaille brought the Stanley Cup to Manchester after the Kings won it in 2012.

"Luc said it was awesome to see so many fans from Manchester come to the arena to see the Stanley Cup. It was definitely an exciting day," Abbott said.

Abbott expects between 7,000 and 8,000 fans for tonight's home opener against the Baby B's.

"I'll be in the lobby and rotating the concourse greeting back our fans," he said. "It's always an exciting part of the day for me. Many fans have the same habits of walking through the same door and going to the same concession stand. I even know many fans who stand in the same spot to watch warm-ups. So I'm looking forward to (tonight), and we're expecting another great season."

- - - - - -

ANTHEM Manchester City Marathon weekend is just two weeks away, with the expo and Kids Marathon on Saturday, Nov. 2 and the marathon/half marathon/marathon relay concurrent the following morning.

This is the seventh year for the event and the first time the marathon is serving as a USA Track and Field-New England Grand Prix event. That designation is certain to be an attraction for runners throughout the region, some of whom are vying for a series overall or age-division championship, others who simply are aiming to complete each of the series' six races, which range in distance from 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) to the marathon's 26.2 miles.

It didn't hurt that the MCM enhanced its reputation last year by re-opening marathon registration to welcome runners who had planned to run in the New York City Marathon, which had been scheduled for the same day as Manchester's but was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

"I don't know how much impact it made in their final decision, but I know the USATF knows the work we did last year providing an opportunity for the New York City Marathon runners to run in our race," said MCM race coordinator Jayne Cornell.

As of Thursday, Cornell said, 377 runners had signed up for the marathon. Last year's marathon had 705 finishers, many of them refugees from New York.

"At this time last year, we had 347 marathon runners signed up, so we're up a little," said Cornell. "We're down in the half marathon. We have 576 runners registered so far, compared to 674 last year. The numbers are down because we're going up against two other half marathons."

Hampton's Smutty Nose Marathon and Half Marathon were Oct. 6, and the nearby Newburyport (Mass.) Half Marathon is tomorrow.

Cornell said she was encouraged to see 75 teams have signed up for the four-person relay option, with legs ranging from 4.8 to 8.5 miles.

"It's a fun category, and we're capping that specific division to 100 relay teams," said Cornell, who applauded relay race coordinator Kathy Satter for her work on that phase of the marathon.

Registration will not be available on race day. Runners have until Thursday, Oct. 31, to register online. The last chance to register in person will be the day before the race, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Sports & Wellness Expo in the expo center of the Radisson Hotel on Elm Street. For more information visit www.cityofmanchestermarathon.com.

"City Sports" is published Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at jhabib@unionleader.com.


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