Maineiacs likely to leave town

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LEWISTON – The Lewiston Maineiacs have played 200 regular-season home games since arriving from Sherbrooke, Quebec, in September 2003.

On March 15, No. 209 will likely be the team’s last.

According to several published and aired reports across the Province of Quebec, most recently on RDS, French Canada’s version of ESPN, the Lewiston Maineiacs are the leading candidate to occupy a new arena under construction in Boisbriand, a suburb of Montreal.

Maineiacs’ president and governor Matt McKnight declined to comment on the reports. “I can’t tell you anything about it,” he said, leaning on his closed-door meetings with the league’s board of governors. “I can’t comment on anything that was discussed (at those meetings). I just can’t talk about it.”

RDS correspondent Stephane Leroux reported Saturday that the only thing left to finalize was the financial terms, including possible compensation to the Montreal Junior, a team already located in the Montreal area, in nearby Verdun.

The Junior were the Maineiacs’ guests at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Saturday during the team’s 200th game celebration.

Joel Bouchard, a former NHL defenseman, is an assistant coach with the Junior, and he’s also leading a group of investors that would purchase a 49 percent share of the Maineiacs. Bouchard works for RDS as an analyst, and did not accompany the Junior to Lewiston on Saturday.

According to SportsJuniors.com, the online version of the official magazine of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, people with knowledge of the closed-door discussions have said that several officials discussed the move at last week’s board of governor’s meeting, and that Lewiston majority owner Mark Just has spoken seriously with parties interested in moving the team to Quebec.

In Le Quotidien newspaper in Quebec, Chicoutimi Sagueneens governor Gervais Munger asserted the same privilege as McKnight.

But Munger, after saying he couldn’t discuss specifics, offered his opinion on geographic rivalries.

“I’ve always been in favor of close rivalries,” Munger said. “The city you mentioned to me would create a great rivalry with Montreal, never mind it would also be a rival for Shawinigan, Victoriaville and Drummondville.”

There was a time when four cities within the greater Montreal metro area – Longueuil, Verdun, Laval and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu – had teams in the league.

A report in the Journal de Quebec said this week that Farrell Miller, the owner of the Junior, is looking for seven-figure compensation for having another team within 40 kilometers of the Junior’s Verdun location, which appears at this point to be the only major hurdle remaining for the proposal to clear.

Leroux and RDS also reported Saturday that Just and Miller had begun speaking with QMJHL Commissioner Gilles Courteau about a possible solution.

Another potential snag – one Bouchard and partner Pierre Gendron appear to have in order – would be the completion of the proposed rink in Boisbriand. Construction will be under way soon on a new facility, which will seat about 4,000. The scheduled completion date for that project is Oct. 1.

McKnight did confirm Saturday that the Maineiacs have yet to file a request for relocation with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, which the team would have to do by Jan. 31 if it planned to move.

“There has been no request filed with the league at this point,” McKnight said.

Asked when he might speak about a possible relocation, McKnight said, “After Jan. 31.”

‘Outstanding hockey’

Hockey fans at the Colisee were already on pins and needles.

“It’s very sad,” said longtime fan and sponsor Dave Iannotti. “The fans and community, particularly the business community, have supported this team for six years. To see them pull up and move would really be too bad. They’ve become an integral part of the Twin Cities.”

Some of the people most instrumental in the early growth of the team, including Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert, were saddened by the prospect of losing the team.

“I’d hate to see them leave; I think it’s outstanding hockey,” Gilbert said. “But I understand it’s a business decision in the long run.”

“Obviously, it would be disappointing,” Lewiston City Administrator Jim Bennett said Saturday. “But if people aren’t coming out to support the team, it would be something understandable, given the economy. There’s not really a lot more to say.”

Gilbert was optimistic that if the team did leave, the city may still be home to another team.

“Who knows what we might get?” Gilbert said. “I’m always hopeful. We could have another team here. It may not be of this caliber, but you never know. We’ll see what develops.”

Many people – from business owners to season-ticket holders and the pay-per-game fans – had already given up hope that the team would stay in Lewiston, given all of the rumors that had surfaced in recent weeks.

“They’re gone,” one fan said between the first and second periods Friday night.

“Yeah, it’s probably a done deal,” said another.

But done deal or not, the fans said they’d continue to support the team as long as it was in town.

“It’s about the players, for me,” said Dan Auger of Greene, a season-ticket holder. “It (upsets me), but I’m still going to come here and watch the games, because I enjoy seeing them play.”

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