History of Professional Hockey in Portland
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The history of Portland hockey began in the 1970s, when the “original” Maine Mariners were brought to town by the same franchise that owns the modern Mariners: the Philadelphia Flyers. The Mariners began play in the 1977-78 season as the AHL affiliate of the Flyers and played their first game in Portland on October 15th, 1977.
The Mariners took the league by storm and won the Calder Cup in their very first year after a 43-28-9 regular season. They defeated the New Haven Nighthawks for the title. They followed up the impressive feat by repeating as Calder Cup Champions the following season, going 45-22-13 and taking down New Haven once again. The Mariners are still the only franchise in AHL history to win the Calder Cup in each of their first two seasons.
Prior to the 1983-84 season, the Flyers sold the affiliation to the New Jersey Devils, and the Mariners pulled off more “first year” magic, winning their third Cup, despite the franchise’s first regular season losing record (33-36-11). They defeated the Rochester Americans in the Calder Cup Finals to capture their third championship. It also marked their fifth finals appearance in seven seasons of existence.
Following the 1986-87 season, the Devils relocated their AHL franchise to Utica, NY. This opened the door for the Boston Bruins to take geographical advantage of the Portland market and place their top affiliate in town. Remarkably, it appeared that the expansion Mariners were going to pull off another first year run to the Cup. They finished with the best record in the North Division (44-25-7-4), but were ousted by the Fredrickton Express in the Division Finals.
The 1987-88 season would be the only successful one for the Bruins iteration of the Mariners. They failed to finish above .500 or make the playoffs in any of their four proceeding seasons. After the 1991-92 campaign, the Bruins moved the franchise to Providence, Rhode Island, where it still operates today. The last Maine Mariners AHL game took place on April 4th, 1992.
Portland was forced to endure just one season without hockey. The Washington Capitals moved their AHL affiliate from Baltimore, Maryland to Portland for the 93-94 season, and the Pirates were born. Enjoying tremendous success on and off the ice right away, the Pirates did what only the Mariners could do before them, and won the Calder Cup in their first season. Barry Trotz, eventual head coach of the 2018 Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals, was behind the bench. Trotz led his Pirates to a 43-27-10 regular season mark and a six-game victory over the Moncton Hawks in the championship series. Trotz would serve as head coach until 1997. The Pirates returned to the Calder Cup Finals in 95-96, but lost to the Rochester Americans in seven games. Although the Pirates would remain in Portland for ten more seasons, they would never make a return to the finals.
In the summer of 2005, the Pirates switched parent clubs from the Capitals to the Anaheim Ducks, an affiliation that would last for three seasons. In 2008, a new relationship began with the Buffalo Sabres that would last through the end of the 2010-11 season. That move ushered in the Phoenix Coyotes era, which spanned four seasons. During what would be their final season in Portland (2015-16), the Pirates were affiliated with the Florida Panthers. On May 4th, 2016, it was announced that the Pirates had been sold with intent to relocate the franchise. Less than two weeks later, the move to Springfield, Massachusetts became official.
It was officially announced that professional hockey was making a triumphant return to Maine in June of 2017. Comcast Spectacor purchased the dormant ECHL membership of the Alaska Aces and relocated it to Portland. With Philadelphia Flyers brass Paul Holmgren and Danny Briere at the helm, the Mariners were “re-born” when they got their name by winning a fan vote three months later. The name pays homage to Portland’s rich hockey tradition and it’s first pro hockey franchise.
A full timeline of the events leading up to the drop of the puck and through the present day of ECHL Mariners hockey is below.
June 15th, 2017: Comcast Spectacor announces its purchase of the ECHL membership formerly known as the Alaska Aces. It intends to move the franchise to Portland, Maine and the Cross Insurance Arena.
September 29th, 2017: “Mariners” becomes the official name after beating out the Lumberjacks, Watchmen, Puffins, and Wild Blueberries in a fan vote.
November 29th, 2017: The Mariners logo and color scheme is revealed.
February 17th, 2018: Riley Armstrong is announced as the first head coach of the Mariners.
April 9th, 2018: The Mariners announce their affiliation with the NHL’s New York Rangers and AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack.
June 22nd, 2018: Forward Alex Kile signs with the Mariners, becoming the first rostered player in franchise history.
August 15th, 2018: Beacon the Puffin is introduced as the Mariners mascot.
September 11th, 2018: The Mariners make the first trade in team history, acquiring forward Terrence Wallin from the Adirondack Thunder.
October 6th, 2018: First preseason game in franchise history, a 5-0 loss to the Worcester Railers. The game is held at the Rinks at Exeter in Exeter, NH.
October 11th, 2018: Inaugural captains are named: Zach Tolkinen (C), Scott Savage (A), and Terrence Wallin (A).
October 13th, 2018: The Mariners play their inaugural regular season game, a 6-3 home loss to the Adirondack Thunder. Jason Salvaggio scores the first goal in franchise history at 10:29 of the first period. A crowd of 5,291 witnessed the game.
October 21st, 2018: The Mariners win their first game in franchise history, defeating the Newfoundland Growlers 4-2 at the Cross Insurance Arena.
November 9, 2018: Forward Shawn St-Amant scores the first overtime goal in team history as the Mariners defeat Worcester 3-2 on the road.
November 14, 2018: St-Amant also gets the first hat trick in Mariners history in a 6-3 home win over Orlando. This is also the franchise’s first game against a non-division opponent.
November 24th, 2018: Forward Ty Ronning registers five points in the third period of his ECHL debut to lead the Mariners to a 6-4 comeback win over the Manchester Monarchs.
December 28th, 2018: The Mariners defeat Worcester 3-2 in a shootout at home, giving them a perfect 5-0-0 home record in December.
January 18th, 2019: Brandon Halverson makes 43 saves for the first shutout win in franchise history. The Mariners defeat Manchester, 1-0.
March 1st, 2019: A 4-3 shootout victory in Utah gives the Mariners ten consecutive wins in overtime or shootout games. The streak ends the following night with a 4-3 overtime loss.
March 9th, 2019: The Mariners become the Maine Wild Blueberries for a game, a nod to the 2nd place name in the naming contest. The South Carolina Stingrays defeat them in overtime, 2-1.
March 17th, 2019: On St. Patrick’s Day, the Mariners and Newfoundland Growlers play an 18-round shootout at the Cross Insurance Arena, the 4th longest shootout in ECHL history. The Mariners win the game 5-4, with Wade Murphy scoring twice, including the game-winner in the 18th round.
April 7th, 2019: The Mariners finish the season with a 4-3 home win over Newfoundland, Murphy once again scoring the winner in a shootout. The Mariners finish their inaugural season with a 22-12-1-1 home record.
August 28th, 2019: Riley Armstrong is promoted to Assistant General Manager and given a two-year contract extension.
October 11th, 2019: The Mariners open their second season, hosting the Adirondack Thunder once again. They fall, 5-2, with Taylor Cammarata scoring both Maine goals in a late comeback bid.
November 9th, 2019: Cumberland, ME native Ted Hart makes his ECHL debut as the Mariners host Adirondack. He becomes the first Maine born player to skate in a Mariners regular season game. Older brother Brian Hart would join the team later in the season.
February 11th, 2020: Alex Kile scores in the final minute of overtime to lift the Mariners to a 3-2 home victory over the Brampton Beast. It’s Kile’s third OT winner at the Cross Insurance Arena in the 2019-20 season, after beating Reading on Nov. 11th and Worcester on Nov. 26th.
February 15th, 2020: A night after the Newfoundland Growlers break the ECHL record with their 19th straight home win, the Mariners end the streak, with a 3-1 victory on “The Rock.” They follow it up with two more victories on Feb. 18th and 19th to become the first team ever to hand the Growlers three straight home losses.
March 10th, 2020: The Mariners fall to the Norfolk Admirals, 3-2 at home, in the final game before the COVID-19 pandemic cancels the remainder of the ECHL regular season and playoffs.
November 18th, 2020: The entire ECHL North Division, including the Mariners, opts out of the 2020-21 season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fourteen of the 26 teams participate in the season.
June 30th, 2021: The Mariners announce a new affiliation agreement with the Boston Bruins.
August 3rd, 2021: Ben Guite is named the second head coach in Mariners history after Riley Armstrong accepts a job in the AHL. Terrence Wallin is named assistant coach.
October 22, 2021: After 591 days without hockey, the Mariners return to the Cross Insurance Arena and open the season with a 6-3 win over the Worcester Railers. University of Maine alumnus Eduards Tralmaks registers a hat trick in his Mariners debut.
November 12, 2021: Mariners forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage puts up six points, five of which are goals, in a wild 8-7 overtime loss to the Trois-Rivieres Lions. Both Zerter-Gossage marks are new single-game team records.
December 29, 2021: In a crazy 9-7 win over Worcester, Alex Kile scores four goals in his season debut, after starting the year injured. Kile’s hat trick is the fifth by the Mariners on home ice in the first half of the season, and fourth against the Railers.
January 1, 2022: Pascal Laberge scores less than a minute into overtime to give the Mariners a three-game home sweep of “New Year’s week,” and their first OT win of the season.
January 29, 2022: A historic blizzard buries Portland in over a foot of snow, but the Mariners game is played and they defeat Reading 2-1 on a late shorthanded goal by Nick Master. The few hundred fans in attendance take a group photo on the ice postgame.
February 5, 2022: Zach Malatesta’s OT winner in Trois-Rivieres completes a three-game road sweep and is the defenseman’s second consecutive overtime goal. The Mariners and Lions play the final game on the practice rink at Colisee Videotron due to ice issues on the primary sheet.
February 20, 2022: The Mariners snap a six-game losing skid when Conner Bleackley’s 100th career ECHL point comes as the overtime winner against Trois-Rivieres at home.
March 5, 2022: In a game with massive playoff implications, the Mariners march into Worcester and rally from a 3-0 deficit in the third period, winning it 4-3 on Nick Master’s first career overtime goal.
March 26, 2022: The Maine Wild Blueberries return, and do so in a big way, as they drop 9 goals on the Newfoundland Growlers. The win would mark the start of an eight game home win streak that would extend into the playoffs.
April 15, 2022: In desperate need of a victory against Newfoundland, defenseman Andrew Peski scores a late game-tying goal and Mathew Santos wins it in OT, putting the Mariners in position to clinch their first ever playoff spot with a win the next day.
April 16, 2022: Needing just a point to clinch their playoff spot, the Mariners get a dramatic 4-3 shootout win over the Growlers and finish the season on a six-game home win streak.
April 20, 2022: The first playoff game in team history is played at Santander Arena against Reading. The Royals claim Game 1, 3-2.
April 28, 2022: The series shifts to Portland and the Mariners host a postseason game for the first time. They don’t disappoint, winning 5-4 on a late goal by Santos to get back in the series.
April 29, 2022: Goaltender Callum Booth registers a 32-save shutout as the Mariners win their eighth straight home game and even up the series with Reading.
May 2, 2022: The Mariners are eliminated from the playoffs in Game 6, falling 2-1 in Reading. They go winless in six regular season and postseason games at Santander Arena.
July 11, 2022: Ben Guite steps down as Mariners head coach to accept the head coaching job at Bowdoin College.
July 27, 2022: Assistant Coach and former player Terrence Wallin is promoted to Head Coach, becoming the third in team history.
August 17, 2022: Former Mariner Johnny McInnis is hired as Wallin’s Assistant Coach.
October 22, 2022: The Mariners achieve their first ever sellout, as 5,386 fans witness a 3-2 loss to the Trois-Rivieres Lions.
December 18, 2022: With an empty net goal in a 5-2 win at Adirondack, Mariners netminder Francois Brassard becomes the first Mariners goaltender to score a goal, and the 14th in ECHL history.
December 21, 2022: Alex Kile registers his 92nd career Mariners point with a goal in a 6-5 loss at Reading, breaking the Mariners franchise record.
December 28, 2022: Tim Doherty and Alex-Olivier Voyer record three goals each as the Mariners rout Worcester, 9-3. Cam Askew scored twice, leaving the Mariners just shy of the “hat trick of hat tricks.”
January 1, 2023: Alex Kile scores his 40th career Mariners goal, passing Dillan Fox for the franchise record.
January 6, 2023: The Mariners sell out their second game of the season, and the fans are rewarded with a thrilling comeback victory, capped by Mitch Fossier’s OT winner.
January 21, 2023: With a 3-1 win at Worcester, the Mariners win their 7th in a row and extend their point streak to 11 – both franchise bests.
March 17, 2023: Alex Kile completes the record trifecta, passing Michael McNicholas for first on the Mariners career assists leaderboard, getting #68 against Worcester. He and Nick Master would finish the season tied atop the list at 73.
March 22, 2023: Alex Kile notches his 200th ECHL point with a goal at Orlando. In the same game, Tim Doherty breaks the Mariners single-season points record, getting #60 and passing Mathew Santos’ 2021-22 total.
March 26, 2023: In the Mariners’ road trip finale at South Carolina, Nick Master skates in his 126th career game as a Mariner, setting a new franchise record. Connor Doherty also skates in his 300th pro game.
April 2, 2023: On the same day that they clinch a berth in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Mariners win their 38th game of the season, setting a new franchise record. They defeat the Tulsa Oilers, 5-2.
April 3, 2023: The Boston Bruins announce a two-year affiliation extension with the Mariners, through the 2024-25 season.
April 14, 2023: Terrence Wallin and Johnny McInnis both receive two-year contract extensions. Wallin is also promoted to General Manager.
April 16, 2023: In the finale of the regular season, the Mariners score 10 goals in a 10-2 win over Norfolk, the most they’ve ever scored in a single game.
April 24, 2023: Alex-Olivier Voyer scores on the power play at 14:52 of overtime to give the Mariners a 4-3 victory over Reading in Game 3 of the North Division Semifinals.
April 29, 2023: For the second postseason in a row, the Mariners see their playoff run come to an end in Reading, losing the series in six games.
All photos posted above are courtesy of the Portland Press Herald. For more photos, including images of the original Maine Mariners and more information about the history of pro hockey in Portland, visit Portland Public Library Special Collections & Archives
AHL Calder Cup
AHL Calder Cup
AHL Calder Cup
AHL Calder Cup
Prior to the arrival of the first Mariners to Portland, the Maine Nordiques competed in the North American Hockey League (a defunct pro league not to be confused with the modern NAHL). The old NAHL lasted only as long as the Nordiques themselves. Most hockey fans are familiar with the former NHL team, the Quebec Nordiques and there was indeed a connection. Lewiston’s club was an affiliate for Quebec – which at the time played in the World Hockey Association (WHL).
Although not a professional team, the MAINEiacs competed in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), considered one of the top junior hockey leagues in the World. They are still the only U.S. based team to play in “the Q” for a full season, and they did so for eight. They won the league champion President’s Cup in 2007. The MAINEiacs have eight alumni that played in the NHL, including goaltenders Jonathan Bernier and Jaroslav Halak, and forward David Perron.