FHL: Fifth and final go for FHL at the Colisee

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LEWISTON — Lost, perhaps, in the buzz earlier this week about the potential for the Portland Pirates to play at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee next season was the impending fifth and final game of the Federal Hockey League’s Maine Event, a five game series of league games from the FHL designed to give the people of the Lewiston-Auburn hockey market a chance to see the fledgling circuit in action.

“We’ve been looking hard at the Federal hockey League option, knowing it’s on the table,” Colisee owner Jim Cain said. “We know that the USHL (United States Hockey League) is a year out, and now that we know that with more certainty, that it’s really going to happen, we have to bridge that gap of time.”

Cain said given that gap, a gap the Pirates may or may not fill with part of their schedule in 2012-13 given the impending renovations to their home rink, the FHL has slowly become a more viable option.

“We’ve been looking at the FHL over the course of the year now,” Cain said. “It may be a worthwhile consideration, but it’s a tough sell with everything else going on. We’ll meet with them this week when they’re in town and have a good discussion about what the framework would look like if we were to get a franchise here. I have a lot of questions and am hoping to get complete answers on Thursday. If there’s any risk, it relates more to the stability of the league itself.”

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One of the teams playing in Lewiston on Thursday, the 1,000 Islands Privateers, is an example of the league’s volatility. More than half the team refused to accompany the team bus on a recent trip to Akwesanse, and some of those players convinced others who were going to replace them not to go as well.

The FHL stepped in and suspended those players, as well as the team’s coach. Since then, the Privateers have regrouped, made some trades and signed some new players to try and stabilize the franchise, which has also reportedly struggled with attendance this season.

The Privateers’ opponents Thursday are the New Jersey Outlaws, making their first appearance at the Colisee in the five-game series. The Outlaws are 30-6-3 on the season and are in first place after 39 games this season.

As for entering the league with a team of his own, Cain is still in a wait-and-see holding pattern. He did admit that the league’s prospects are looking up.

“My thoughts right now are that the FHL could really grow next year,” Cain said. “The imminent downsizing of the CHL in the Midwest, and maybe even in the ECHL, means that there will be a surplus of quality hockey players looking to continue playing hockey somewhere. As a result, there will be more players available, and leagues like the FHL will get stronger. My intentions are to have a good long chat with the commissioner of the league Thursday.”

As for all of the speculation earlier in the week, after some facts emerged that Pirates’ owner Brian Petrovek would make an offer to purchase the Colisee this week, Cain continued this week to shake his head.

“I’ve been talking for a long time with the Pirates and Brian about the Pirates’ program and about junior hockey,” Cain said. “We’re both focused on the USHL, and their plans to expand to the East. All of that is true. I think what you’re seeing here right now is some play on leverage, or maybe something internal from the Cumberland County Civic Center saying these things, about buying the Colisee. That set off 10 phone calls my way from various media, and it got people talking. I’ve been talking to Brian about this, trying to figure out where this all started, because this isn’t good for anyone’s business, the office staffs. It affects everybody. What I need to do is get back to the office and really sort this all out.”

Meanwhile, Cain said, there’s still a game Thursday.

“And it should be a good one,” he said. “Two teams at the top of the league. The games this year have been mixed, but these are two good teams. We should see some good hockey.”

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