LEWISTON — After five games at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, the Federal Hockey League is ready to go all in and approve a franchise for the Lewiston-Auburn area.
Colisee ownership isn’t quite ready to commit.
The FHL played a five-game slate at the Colisee this season in hopes of persuading arena owner Jim Cain to pursue the league and the area’s hockey fans into forming a relationship with the league going forward.
“All of our members liked it,” FHL Commissioner Don Kirnan said. “I know that, I think in a couple of week, we’ll have an announcement here about next year.”
Not so fast, Cain said.
“There has been a request made for a team to relocate here,” Cain said. “Which is something we’re going to consider. This has been a two-minute discussion, so there’s a lot more than that to bringing a team in here.”
“I admire his enthusiasm,” Cain added. “What can I say? I was approached (Thursday) by one of the teams playing here, and I said I’d sit down and talk, and that’s where it ended. Meanwhile, I’ll be out all next week, so maybe we’ll talk next Thursday. I look forward to talking about it at that point.”
Kirnan, who also runs the Empire Junior Hockey League, said Thursday he believes the FHL would be a better fit for the Colisee than would junior hockey.
“The staff that’s here is excellent, all the people that are here are excellent,” Kirnan said. “It’s a first-class operation, and they’re just looking for the right situation with a league, and quite honestly, if we don’t come around, there isn’t any option. Even the junior options right now are pretty bad. That wouldn’t be accepted in this town. I run a 29-team junior hockey league. I know junior hockey really, really well, and it wouldn’t work here. If they saw the quality of the junior teams that would come in here, it would be a big job getting them to accept it.”
Again, Cain said, not necessarily.
“Yes, I know junior hockey, too,” Cain said. “I’m sure it can work in this building. Absolutely. The USHL, the highest level of junior hockey will work in this building, absolutely.”
The Federal Hockey League is in its second year, and the fact that it survived to this point is already a benchmark.
“We were in the New York Times three weeks ago because we were the first league to survive to a second year in twenty-some-odd years, and next year will be the third,” Kirnan said.
But the two years have not come without controversy. At least two teams have been forced to relocate or fold, and the 1,000-Islands Privateers, who played at the Colisee on Thursday, were playing with almost an entirely new roster due to suspensions resulting from a mutiny of players refusing to suit up for a game last week.
“It’s a situation where, in the first three to five years, you’re going to see some stumbling,” Kirnan said. “Even the NHL, they lost Atlanta, they lost Winnipeg years ago, they lost Kansas City. You’ll have things that fluctuate.”
Attendance was strong for the first two games at the Colisee. A bench-clearing brawl in Game 2 between Danville and Danbury left a sour taste in some fans’ mouths, and attendance shrank for Game 3, which also featured a matchup of teams that weren’t originally supposed to play after one of the scheduled teams chose not to make the drive.
“This is the least we’ve had,” Kirnan said. “Fans are fans, and they need their own team to cheer for. We think that it’s difficult … first of all, five games is hard to get a fan base set up for it becuase you’re used to playing thirty or forty. So five doesn’t help you. We understood that from the beginning.”
Despite the lower numbers, Kirnan is confident that the FHL brand of hockey is the right fit for the Colisee.
“We obviously feel this would be the right situation,” Kirnan said. “Our situation is, we’re looking to have a good brand of hockey at a budget that people can afford and a ticket price that people can afford. That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re very close. We have some cities in the ECHL whose teams are talking to us about coming to our league from their league.”
Meanwhile, at the Colisee on Thursday, that team in turmoil, the Privateers, upended the league’s top team, the New Jersey Outlaws, 3-1.
“It’s just a character win by our guys,” 1,000-Islands forward Paul Kelly Jr. said. “With all the stuff that’s happened in recent week, we had guys not getting here until six in the morning (Thursday), and then we had to get right on the bus and drive another 10. For us to gut that out, I can’t say enough about these guys.”
A big reason for the Privateers’ victory was new keeper Peter Dundovich, acquired this week from the Brooklyn Aviators. Pressed into starting after an injury to Matt Anthony in warmups, Dundovich stopped 47 of the 48 shots he faced in the two-goal win.
“They told me in the locker room to get ready, it was a pretty sudden thing,” Dundovich said. “Sometimes thinking less is better.”
Kelly Jr., Britt Ouellette and Adam McAllister had the goals for the Privateers, while Travis Kauffeldt broke up Dundovich’s bid for a shutout with less than 10 seconds to play in the contest, on New Jersey’s 48th and final shot of the game.