PORTLAND — Players won’t hit the ice until October 2018, but officials with the city’s new professional hockey team began lacing ’em up July 20.
“I only wish we could drop the puck right now and start playing,” Danny Briere said at the Cross Insurance Arena press conference where team officials were introduced.
A former National Hockey League player, Briere said he is now starting a dream job as vice president for hockey operations with the ECHL team that is moving to Portland from Anchorage, Alaska.
But before anyone revs up the Zamboni to clear Cross Insurance Arena ice, the team needs a name.
Entries in a naming contest are now being accepted at portlandmainehockey.com. The deadline is Aug. 14, and Adam Goldberg, the team’s vice president of business operations, said the top five judged entries will be posted online for a fan vote beginning Aug. 17.
“We are looking for a team name that connects the team to the area and with the fans; one that best represents Portland, Cumberland County, southern Maine, and the competitive nature of this region,” Briere said.
The winner will receive four season tickets for the inaugural 2018-2019 season, and will take part in the ceremonial puck drop at the team’s first home game.
On Sept. 1, the team will begin accepting deposits for season tickets. Goldberg said the front office will try to accommodate former Portland Pirates season ticket-holders with seats they previously held.
The American Hockey League Pirates left after the 2015-2016 season, when the team was sold to investors in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Four potential ownership groups responded to a request for proposals issued by the arena’s board of trustees in January; Comcast Spectacor is the new owner.
Comcast Spectacor is also the parent company of Spectra, which operates the Cross Insurance Arena for Cumberland County, and owns the NHL Philadelphia Flyers. The new team, however, will not be affiliated with the Flyers.
With annual options, the initial three-year lease could extend through the 2032-2033 season.
Arena President Mitchell Berkowitz and City Manager Jon Jennings said the new ownership presents a strong merger that will provide stability and be an anchor in the arena, which was renovated in 2014 at a cost of $31 million.
“These opportunities do not come quickly, they take a lot of work,” Berkowitz said, adding the lease terms are predicated on the team drawing an average of 2,100 in paid attendance for each game.
Jennings, who helped bring the Maine Red Claws basketball team to Portland, was part of the committee that reviewed and recommended the hockey proposals to arena trustees (the city plays no role in arena operations or the lease).
“I knew this was the group that made all the sense in the world,” Jennings said. “It really was about the stability of the applicant, a partner coming in for a long-term investment.”
Flyers President Paul Holmgren also attended the press conference and recalled training in Portland during his playing days. He said the team is an example of how the business units work together.
Briere and Holmgren agreed the 14-month gap before the team takes the ice will allow a solid organization to be built and become part of the community.
“We want to be competitive, entertaining and visible,” Briere said.
Approaching its 30th season, the ECHL was founded as the East Coast Hockey League, but adopted the acronym as it expanded throughout the country. The new Portland team is part of a shift back to cities the AHL left over the last decade.
ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said the team should develop regional rivalries with teams in Manchester, New Hampshire; Worcester, Massachusetts; and Glens Falls, New York.
“Portland made sense where it might not have made sense a few years ago,” McKenna said.
City Manager Jon Jennings and Cross Insurance Arena Board of Trustees President Mitchell Berkowitz listen July 20 as ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna officially announces the return of hockey to Portland.
Danny Briere, a vice president of Portland’s new hockey team, signs an autograph for longtime fan Raymond “Switchboard” Dudley on July 20 at Cross Insurance Arena.
Professional ice hockey will return to Cross Insurance Arena, seen July 20, in October 2018. The new team is now taking entries in a naming contest.