LEWISTON — More than than two years after the Androscoggin Bank Colisee lost the Lewiston Maineiacs as a primary hockey tenant, plans are in place for a full-season replacement thanks to a finalized partnership between Jim Cain's Firland Management group and Ron Cain, proprietor of the Junior Pirates, Maine Hockey Group and Legacy Global Sports.
Building on an agreement that saw Ron Cain and Junior Pirates program purchase all of the Colisee's available ice time for youth hockey in 2012, the two entities have formed a partnership moving forward that will ultimately see the return of top level junior hockey to the Lewiston rink, as well as expand the current minor hockey offerings.
"What we did is what we said we were going to do a year ago, and now the deal is finished," Jim Cain said. "Essentially, Ron has purchased an interest both in the real estate and in the operating company, and we've retained an interest both in the real estate and we obviously still operate the operating company."
"I hesitate to disclose percentages without their approval," Ron Cain said, "but it's safe to say I have a majority financial interest in them."
Ron Cain also has a stake in the American Hockey League's Portland Pirates, the top affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League. Those Pirates will play at least 13 games — and perhaps as many as 18 — at the Colisee this season while the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland undergoes significant renovations. That deal, Jim Cain said, prevents a junior team from moving into the Colisee this season.
"We'll get some (junior) games after Christmas this year, as well," Jim Cain said. "With the Pirates in here using our main locker room that often, it's just not possible to do both things for this year."
"What we're trying to do is give the hockey market a good option for development on the younger side, the youth side, continue to grow that and be patient with it. And then we have Pirates up there for a number of games this year, and then the junior U-20 team, which plays in the USPHL, will come in. Our intention is to play that U-20 team out of the Colisee full time, probably starting part time this year after the Pirates games, and then full time next year."
The USPHL — United States Premier Hockey League — was formed this year to provide an East coast option for high-level players with NCAA aspirations, similar to the USHL and NAHL, two elite leagues that operate primarily in the Midwest.
"It's going to be good news for the community," Jim Cain said. "Everyone's been waiting for it, and prior to my relationship and investment with Ron, I had tried various ways, with USHL expansion or the North American Hockey League. I already operate a Tier II team in Flint, Mich., in the NAHL, and I even operate a Tier III team in Flint. Because both leagues were slow in looking out east ... Ron Cain has played a huge role in getting the U.S. Premier Hockey League off the ground. This will bring the top players on the East coast, of which there are many, to play on the East coast rather than playing in the Midwest. We're pretty excited about that. People locally will be able to see high-quality hockey that is equivalent to what they used to see (with the Maineiacs)."
The USPHL's junior, or U-20, division will begin play this season with nine teams, one of which will be the Pirates. The team will skate out of Ron Cain's Saco-based ice and training facility for the majority of the upcoming season before shifting all of their games to Lewiston in 2014-15.
"It's actually a model that the NHL really likes," Ron Cain said. "The NHL is trying to find organizations that have 'youth through pro,' and have the development capacity and the resources to develop the kids. We've followed that, and most of the teams in the USPHL are in the same category and have pro affiliations."
Hockey fans in Lewiston will get a taste of junior hockey this season, as well.
"We're going to try and do a couple of what we call 'hockey days,'" Ron Cain said. "We'll bring up the USPHL team on an afternoon if we can get it scheduled properly, and they'll play in the afternoon, and the AHL Pirates will play in the evening, and people will get two games for the price of one. We'll do some of that to introduce the team to the local market."
The junior hockey team's arrival in Lewiston is only one piece of the arrangement between Jim Cain and Ron Cain.
"On the operating side, what people will see is Ron's investment materializing," Jim Cain said. "That's the growth of the Junior Pirates program, bringing junior hockey in here for next year (2014-15), plus some real money we can put into the business to round the thing out. We're in good shape overall. (Ron Cain) brings what I tried to and wasn't able to bring, which is a full-time tenant here on the hockey side, and that's really good news. This represents the development and growth model we want to build on going forward. The youth hockey, we're doing the schedule now, is virtually doubled in size this year, and will reach where we need to be by next year."
Upgrades and improvements to the building are also on the horizon, Jim Cain said, in part out of necessity as the NCAA is scheduled to visit the rink to begin planning its 2014 Division III Ice Hockey Championship.
"We want to expand on some things in here, and we need to do a few improvements," Jim Cain said. "We want to improve a bit on our retail concepts in here, with Jamey (Bourgoin, of Blue Line Sporting Goods), and we may do some renovations there. We're going to be improving the building a bit for the NCAA Division III tourney. They'll be visiting here in September and we have some thoughts on expanding some of the locker rooms that we want to do anyway, but with the NCAA event, it will make the place showcase even better.
"Having Ron on board with these companies really solidifies not only the economic model for this place, but also the programming model," Jim Cain continued. "That's the important piece. I think that Mike (Cain, Jim's son), who has rolled into the GM function of this building now, will do a great job going forward."
And while this deal has plenty of financial components for both sides, Ron Cain insists there's more to all of this than money.
"I do it more out of passion than as a business venture," Ron Cain said. "It has to survive on its own, but it's not a huge money-maker. But as far as hockey itself, we anticipate it's going to be a really good product on the ice, and that the community will embrace that and it will grow. We're seeing that on the youth side, and on the junior side, we anticipate that as well."