Junior hockey: Former goalie buys team

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HALLOWELL — The office in which he sat was just a bit larger than a walk-in closet. Scattered about were pictures, plaques, bags, jerseys and paperwork, all adorned with a large, angry moose. The view, through the room’s one window, more than made up for it.

As Ben Gray rocked back in his chair, his elbows rested on the arms as he brought his fingers together at chest level. Over his shoulder though that one window, the ice surface at the Kennebec Ice Arena gleamed in the dimmed lights.

He spoke like a proud father.

“I knew I wanted to stay involved in hockey,” Gray said. “This is a great way to do it.”

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“Involved” is an understatement.

Gray is a Farmingdale native who played for St. Dom’s and backstopped the team to a pair of state championships. He played for three teams in the ECHL and one each in the UHL and SPHL, and he is now the new owner of the Maine Moose, a franchise in the International Junior Hockey League (IJHL) based out of the Kennebec Ice Arena. At 27, the opportunity to own a hockey franchise was too good to pass up, even if the opportunity did present itself a bit more quickly than he’d planned.

“It’s always something I thought about doing, something I wanted to do in the future,” Gray said. “I didn’t think it would happen this quick. It’s been a little crazy at first, but it’s all going to be a good thing.”

Gray takes over the franchise, currently gearing up for its fifth season, from founder Steve Levesque and Tom McBrierty.

“I am very pleased that Ben Gray has taken over the reins of the Moose,” Levesque said in a news release. “He has a great hockey pedigree and the right attitude and work ethic to carry on the college development tradition established by the program’s founders.”

“We talked about it a little bit last year, back and forth,” Gray said. “Then this year, a little more. They kind of presented it to me. Both of them wanted to get out of the business. They just wanted basically not to have two full-time jobs, to have a little bit of a normal life, which I can’t blame them.”

Now, the survival of one of the IJHL’s northern outposts rests in Gray’s hands.

“Every franchise, no matter what it is, you want to try and continue to build up,” Gray said. “Adding a midget program to help with the Super-Elite team will help, and the league, the IJHL is actually expanding right now, which is a good thing for the exposure for the kids. You’re always looking for things to change to make something better.”

Gray’s priority, he said, will be getting a higher number of his players into colleges to play hockey.

“I’d also like to make this team more of a household name across the state, to try and benefit the Maine kids more,” Gray said. “I don’t want to take a kid away from his high school team, you know, that’s not the goal. I want to build a better relationship with the high school coaches and show that we can be successful, that Maine high school hockey and juniors can be successful together.”

The biggest transition for Gray, who’s spent time both as a head coach and assistant coach with the team in recent years, will be the office work: making the phone calls and interacting with colleges and scouts.

“I have a lot of friends who are now coaches, people I played with or for, who can help me out in that area,” Gray said. “Opening those doors and being an advocate for the kids is going to be fun, I think.”

More office work will translate to less time on the bench and on the ice, though.

“I won’t get to be on the ice with them every day, but at the same time, I can go out onto the ice and skate whenever I want with them, once in a while to help out, and meeting with them one-on-one to get to know them better and just help them out is going to be great,” Gray said, turning back over his shoulder to face the ice. “And, I can watch whenever I want to from right here.”

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