Maineiacs looking at ‘all options’ for financial help, including possible sale

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After eight consecutive seasons of losing money, Lewiston Maineiacs’ majority owner Mark Just is looking for help, and he is exploring “every option open to him.”

“I have been trying to do everything that I possibly can to keep the team intact,” Just said in a news release Sunday. “All and every option is on the table, including selling to local investors or others, looking at relocation options, and/or seeking additional sources of funding within the state of Maine.”

The organization held a private meeting Sunday with the team’s staff and select members of Lewy’s Legion to update the team’s status in the face of multiple rumors of relocation, sales and even the possibility of the team folding up shop all together.

“As much as the organization values the support received over the years, it has not been enough to meet financial obligations without generous contributions from the ownership,” the team wrote in its release. “The organization has reached the point where it cannot continue to operate under the fiscal conditions as they exist today.”

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The costs to operate the team in the United States are significantly greater than those associated with other teams in the league, specifically in terms of insurance, education and immigration.

“As the only United States-based team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the organization incurs a higher level of expenditures for immigration, health care, and travel,” Just said. “As a result, the team is working toward finding solutions to reduce these costs and become profitable. We cannot continue to lose money as the team has in the past eight seasons.”

One possible solution manifested itself Sunday, as Portland Pirates’ owner Brian Petrovek informed minority owner Paul Spellman of his potential interest.

“Brian has expressed interest to me in an ownership position under certain circumstances,” Spellman said Sunday. “However, he has not been fully engaged in those conversations until very recently, so he needs time. He wants the Maineiacs to be successful and viable and will be disappointed if the team leaves Lewiston.”

The team first announced its intentions to relocate to Boisbriand, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal, in January 2009. The Montreal Junior blocked that move, using a proximity clause in the league’s rule book that states a team has exclusive territorial rights within a certain geographical radius.

That failed attempt to move essentially forced then-president and governor Matt McKnight’s resignation. Don MacAdam assumed the role of coach and ultimately team president for a short while before Just released him in 2010.

Bill Schurman arrived on the scene in the summer of 2010 and brought with him plenty of gusto and energy, promising to “do everything in (his) power to try and make the team work here.”

But by December, the rumors again began to surface.

The Maineiacs’ attendance was better than the previous season, but still well below a sustainable level in terms of profit. Business support plummeted, too.

And with Schurman’s connections to Summerside, Prince Edward Island, rumors of the franchise’s wish to relocate there surfaced and spread rapidly.

The league’s official date to request relocation passed, but the rumors persisted, fueled by the Maineiacs’ president’s frequent trips to the island province and the team’s decision to tour the city and its facilities. During the first round of the President’s Cup playoffs, a group from Summerside attended a Maineiacs’ game in Moncton.

Two weeks ago, media outlets in Atlantic Canada reported that, in an informal poll of the league’s decision-makers, support for a second team in PEI was thin and if a formal vote were to take place, the measure would be shot down. The league never called a formal vote.

The Thibeault-led group and a group of investors from PEI have also reportedly led charges to purchase the Maineiacs from Just and relocate the franchise to their respective markets. In the past, particularly after the team’s first failed attempt at relocation, Petrovek and Colisee owner Jim Cain have also expressed interest in becoming part of the team’s organizational structure.

Petrovek also attempted to purchase the Androscoggin Bank Colisee when it was up for sale by the city of Lewiston, losing out to a bid from Cain’s Firland Management company.

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