Search continues for lead investor for Portland hockey team

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PORTLAND — Despite the loss of a potential majority investor, Godfrey Wood is confident the city will have a professional hockey team in 2017.

“I think we are going to get it done. We are actively talking with people, we are crunching numbers and talking about ways to do it,” Wood said Aug. 31.

Wood has been working to bring an ECHL team to the Cross Insurance Arena since the Portland Pirates were sold in May and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts.

At first, Wood and business partner Brad Church sought an expansion team in the ECHL. ECHL, formerly an acronym for East Coast Hockey League, has 27 teams throughout the country.

Wood said the group that includes Church – who is a former Pirates player, executive and member of the team’s hall of fame – is looking for investors to put up $1.75 million.

“We have a number of people who have expressed interest in being a minority investor,” he said, but how many will invest for how much cannot be determined until a majority investor steps up.

The estimate for bringing a team to Portland is based on an expansion team that starts from scratch, and would allow any team to begin operations in January 2017, Wood said.

But by luring an existing franchise to Portland, Wood said, “payment terms may be better and a schedule for getting a team better.”

Wood and partner Tom Ebright brought the Pirates to Portland for the 1993-94 American Hockey League season. The team moved from Baltimore a year after the team originally known as the Maine Mariners moved to Providence, Rhode Island.

The AHL plays one rung below the National Hockey League, and the teams are almost always affiliated with NHL teams. The ECHL generally lacks those working agreements, but provides players to AHL teams.

Wood, a Falmouth resident who is married to Karen Wood, publisher of The Forecaster, said he would like operations to begin in January in order to market a new team, which will be called the Pirates and bring back the team’s original logo. 

“We need to get in front of people for sponsorships, group sales and season ticket sales,” he said. The goal is to attract 1,500 season ticket-buyers.

The Pirates averaged 3,363 fans per game at the Cross Insurance Arena in 2015-16. The average attendance in the 1993-94 season was almost 5,900 per game.

With ECHL teams due to replace AHL teams in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire, Wood and Church see an opportunity for regional rivalries.

“The local rivalries would be great; I call it the trinity,” Wood said.

The AHL, which absorbed the International Hockey League in 2002, has shifted five teams to California in the last few seasons. The Pirates moved to Springfield to replace a team headed to Arizona.

The Pirates called Portland home for more than 20 seasons, but played one season in Lewiston in 2013-2014 after the team and Cumberland County Civic Center trustees could not agree on a lease. 

The former Civic Center was renovated and expanded, then renamed as part of the $33 million project in 2014. The Pirates signed a five-year lease, which had a $100,000 escape clause exercised when majority owner Ron Cain sold the team in the spring.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.