It’s been a good run for the Portland Pirates and their fans at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee over the last two years. Sunday’s swan song has the potential to top them all.
Take a heated regional rivalry, add two well-liked former Lewiston Maineiacs and a pair of teams jockeying for playoff positioning, and watch them come to a boil in a junior hockey venue that by itself adds a tighter-than-normal feel to any porofessional game.
“Our record’s been pretty strong in Lewiston,” Portland coach Kevin Dineen said. “It’s been a good host building for us to say the least, and the guys always seem to get up and play well when we’re there.”
Under a new two-year lease agreement between the Pirates and the Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland cannot play any off-site home games. After back-to-back seasons with two games in Lewiston, it will be at least two more years before the Pirates can return.
In three previous games at the Colisee, Portland has two wins and a shootout loss — a 6-3 victory over Albany, a 6-1 win over Lowell and a 3-2 shootout loss to Providence.
Sunday, the Pirates will host Manchester, a divisional foe with which Portland could match up in the playoffs.
“When we get down to these single digits in terms of games left, and you get everyone jockeying for playoff positions,” Dineen said. “It’s close to the point right now that, if the playoffs started, we’re close to playing each other. It really adds some extra emphasis on the game.”
Portland sits second in the AHL’s Atlantic Division, but the Monarchs, whom the Pirates just saw Friday, are lurking.
“It’s a great competitive rivalry between the two cities,” Manchester coach Mark Morris said. “These two teams have played each other well all season long.”
When Manchester goalie and former Lewiston Maineiacs keeper Jonathan Bernier has been in net for the Monarchs this season against Portland, the games have been close. In the teams’ first five meetings, Portland won twice in a shootout and one other time in a 2-0 goaltenders’ duel. Manchester earned a shutout win and an overtime win of its own.
But in the teams’ previous two meetings, Portland has outscored Manchester 10-1 with Bernier either resting or in Los Angeles with the Monarchs’ parent club in the NHL.
“It’s no secret they’re going to get great goaltending, especially with the game in that building,” Dineen acknowledged. “That’s just another thing we’re going to have to overcome, but again, our guys have enjoyed playing there, too.”
Manchester has relied heavily on Bernier this season.
“He’s allowed our younger players time to mature in front of him,” Morris said. “With Portland, we know they have great team speed, and their transition game through the neutral zone is going to be the key. We really need to try and play a puck-possession game, get the puck deep and try to hem them in the zone.”
Marc-Andre Cliche, a former Lewiston Maineiacs captain, will also play for Manchester on Sunday, and both squads are coming into a third game in as many nights. They met Friday in Manchester, Portland traveled to Lowell on Saturday while Manchester made the trip to Bridgeport.
“We need to play a solid road game, and we need to put a few pucks in the net against a very good team,” Morris said.
“Hopefully we can go out on a good note,” Dineen said. “It’s been a great atmosphere playing in Lewiston. The fans have treated us well. Hopefully, we can get a win this time around.”