For the State of Maine’s only professional hockey club, this week marks a very momentous occasion. On Thursday, the ECHL’s Maine Mariners will host the Reading Royals in Game 3 of the best-of-seven Northern Division semifinals. This contest will be the first home postseason game in the history of the relocated franchise, who only started playing games at the Cross Insurance Arena in October, 2018.
During their first two seasons in Maine, the Mariners did not make the postseason, but still had the best record of any non-playoff team in the ECHL during that span. Last season, they withdrew from the season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, however, the Mariners got over the hump and made the playoffs, even though they actually finished with a losing record, including aggregate losses. In fact, it was their thrilling march to qualify for the Kelly Cup Playoffs in the final weeks that was most impressive. In their final three contests, Maine leapfrogged the Worcester Railers in the standings with help from the Trois-Rivieres Lions. Meanwhile, the Mariners did their part by securing a 3-0-0 record in those games, including shootout and overtime wins over the Newfoundland Growlers by way of winger Mathew Santos.
Last weekend, the Kelly Cup Playoffs opened for the Mariners in Reading, where the Royals won a close Game 1 by a score of 3-2 and jumped to a 2-0 series lead after a 3-0 shutout in Game 2. Reading, who has been one of the most successful ECHL franchises ever, trailed only the Toledo Walleye for the league lead in points this season. Their formidable attack includes a well-balanced scoring threat and a strong defence in front of netminder Logan Flodell, who stopped all 32 shots on Saturday night.
Maine will look to keep their backs far from the wall in Game 3 Thursday in Portland, where puck drop is scheduled for 7:00pm local time. The opportunity is one which Maine hockey fans have long awaited. It has been six years since the now-defunct Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League last played a professional playoff game in that arena. They eventually lost to the Hershey Bears, another team from Pennsylvania. Time will tell this weekend if the Mariners can reverse history in that regard. Either way, though, history will be made in Portland.