For a city that has experienced a tenuous history with pro-hockey, the coronavirus-related withdrawal from the ECHL last season drew gritted teeth and short nails for fans in the Pine Tree State that root for the Maine Mariners. After all, it was only four years earlier that the Portland Pirates, a mainstay in the American Hockey League for over two decades, had departed for Springfield, Massachusetts.
However, this spring, the Mariner faithful was given great news when it was announced that the Boston Bruins would become the team’s new affiliate, replacing the New York Rangers, who had been the parent since the franchise began play in 2018. While the bond between an ECHL club and an NHL parent is not as strong as it is with the AHL, this announcement will undoubtedly give the team the much-needed marketing jolt following the lost season. Much of this excitement will certainly come from the large contingent of Bruins fans that reside in Maine and New England in large. Even with the complicated, but rich history of hockey in the state, one would have to go back to the early 1990’s to find another Maine-Boston affiliation.
Moreover, the lingering absence of pro-hockey in nearby Manchester, New Hampshire could provide other local fans with ECHL level hockey amidst budding rivalries with the Worcester Railers and Adirondack Thunder.
If the recent past is any indicator, Mariner fans old and new will have exciting games to look forward to this season. Danny Briere’s club tallied seven shootout or overtime wins during the 2019-20 season prior to the suspension and twelve the season before. In addition, the potential for Bruins prospects or other local skaters taking the ice will remain a selling point for hockey fans across the region. And of course, the ECHL’s affordable atmosphere will allow for younger fans to get the opportunity to experience a game.
So far this summer, the Mariners have been busy. Aside from their affiliation announcement, Maine appointed Ben Guite as the new head coach after the departure of Riley Armstrong to the American Hockey League. In addition, they brought back forward Nick Master and defenseman Nate Kallen, both of whom played for the club in 2019-20. Similarly, they signed Andrew Romano and Jonathan Desbiens, both of whom would have made their debuts for the blue and green in 2020-21 if not for the COVID-19. And just in the past week, the Mariners signed former second-round NHL draft pick Pascal Laberge and Marc-Olivier Duquette, formerly of Fort Wayne and Wheeling. The acquisition of Laberge brings in a player with a high ceiling, and someone with ties to Philadelphia, the former parent club of the Mariners.
Elsewhere on the ice, the Mariners will look to compete with the league’s top teams. While not a playoff team in 2019, they held the best record of any club that did not lock down a spot in the postseason. Aside from the aforementioned Thunder and Railers, the Mariners will also compete with the Newfoundland Growlers, who were likely to have captured the division title in 2020 – the last time Maine competed – before the one-year suspension.
Between a new affiliation with the most popular NHL team in town, the pent-up excitement after a lost year, and the chance for a competitive and electrifying season, the Mariners and their fans will have much to anticipate this fall when the puck is dropped. Maine will start their season on Friday, October 22nd with a home-and-home series against the Worcester Railers.