Junior Pirates In 2012 Target Still USHL FHL Is Not An Option

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Junior Pirates in 2012, target still USHL, FHL is not an option

The Portland Pirates, Maine Hockey Group and Firland Management, owner of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, unveiled an alliance Tuesday to bring upper-level hockey back to the Colisee.

The Pirates will play some of their games in Lewiston next season and there’s a plan for junior hockey to return to the area, Firland owner Jim Cain said.

"We realized we needed to bring to this market junior hockey at its highest level," Cain said. "The USHL. Both Brian (Petrovek, CEO and owner of the Pirates) and I were working parallel, and we joined forces over the last several months to see how we could make this thing happen. We’re a year and a half away from executing that plan. It’s going to happen. That’s great news for this market, great news for people that like to attend hockey games, and junior hockey at its highest level is a great fit for Lewiston-Auburn."

In the meantime, Cain said, the AHL’s Pirates will play a handful of games in Lewiston next season, as will the Junior Pirates, which this year will skate in the Eastern Junior Hockey League under the management of Ron Cain (no relation), owner of MHG and also a part-owner of the Portland Pirates. That team will be based in Saco, but will play some games in Lewiston.

"The intent is that, we’ve talked extensively about the USHL, and we anticipate this to be the home of that USHL team," Ron Cain said. "That’s still probably a season or two away. For the interim, Brian has committed to six or seven games, and we’re intent on taking the EJHL team up here for four, maybe five games, so you have a package of about 10 out of here next season, and give that level some exposure as well."

The agreement between the three companies will also affect area youth hockey teams. The Junior Pirates’ organization has purchased all available ice time from the Colisee for next season with the intent to operate youth hockey programs at the rink. That guaranteed purchase, Jim Cain said, will help stabilize Firland’s stake in the Colisee.

Part of that partnership will include the addition of a junior hockey franchise in 2013.

"We’re more leaning toward doing it all out of here, out of Lewiston, the kids being billeted out of Lewiston and being a part of the community," Ron Cain said. "That will of course come with building some kind of off-ice training center here, and we’d probably do that, as well. The education piece would be out of this area, as well."

Adding a USHL franchise in Lewiston is still contingent upon the league itself expanding to the East. Currently, it is a 16-team league based in the Midwest.

"The USHL has, in fact, the desire to move East," Jim Cain said.

The move would also involve more than one team existing in New England, though an exact number has yet to be determined.

"It remains to be seen what a ‘cluster’ will be defined as," Petrovek said. "But I think we’ve seen enough out of this market, and a few particular others to where there’s some momentum."

Petrovek also would not commit to the number of games the Pirates would ultimately play in Lewiston next season, or in future seasons. Jim Cain said last week that number was "seven, for sure."

Citing a changing Portland marketplace, Petrovek also said he hoped the Colisee could be a second home venue for the Pirates in future seasons, as well.

"I’ve said repeatedly since we purchased the franchise four years ago, it’s a challenge for 40 events in a single area, now we’re down to 38," Petrovek said. "From a business perspective, 38 games in a market the size of greater Portland is too much supply, so take the renovation piece out of the equation, we just think this is a good place for us to play more games on a regular basis. We need to find what that sweet spot is in terms of number of games, characterized currently as a handful. Even with the renovated Civic Center in the not-too-distant future, it will be important for the growth and strength of our company to play games in this market."

The Junior Pirates’ EJHL team will also play a handful of games at the Colisee. While the combined dates won’t equal an entire season, Jim Cain is more than satisfied, thanks again to the agreement for the Junior Pirates’ purchase of the remaining available ice time. So satisfied, he said, that a full-time tenant, such as a Federal Hockey League team, is no longer necessary.

"Once we determine fully how many Pirates’ games, how many EJHL games, that rules out the Federal Hockey League," Jim Cain said. "We would look to get four or five other games, from other entities. There are a variety of things we have to look at as things get closer. As far as bringing in a full-time team for next year, I don’t think we’ll have that."

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